In all honesty, out of all the places and countries in the world, Peru wasn’t really on the top of my list.
I never really learned much about it and it still remains a sort of mystery in my mind. However, last semester I took a class at the University of Central Florida called “Geography of Latin America” and I learned a few things. The class was online but one of the funnest classes I’ve taken so far, and I’m in my senior year.
I had just come back from backpacking Spain where I had to plan, make itineraries, research places and prices, bus schedules and buy plane tickets and the big project for this class, which was worth most of our grade, was to plan every aspect of a trip that would include four countries: two in South America, one in Central America and one in the Caribbean. I chose Peru, Brazil, Panama and Cuba. I’m still not really sure why I chose Peru, but I did and I learned about important places and popular cities. I learned about traditional dancing and typical foods. Machu Picchu seemed so beautiful in pictures and the indigenous population as well as the Quechua language intrigued me.
I’ve been meaning to go volunteer abroad for a while now, but it never was the right time. It was either lack of time, or money or whatever other unexpected event. I started saving up and paying little by little and even though for most of the time I thought I was going to South Africa, I randomly decided to go to Peru.
I think this class really made an impact. I’m so curious about indigenous populations in Latin America and especially intrigued by their languages, that this seemed like the perfect program. I’m going to Peru this summer with Reach Out Volunteers. I bought my plane ticket, I made the final payment, I have a backpack and I’m waiting for the semester to end so I can start getting ready for the trip.
The volunteers will be teaching and working to build green houses in an indigenous community in Urubamba. We’re going to learn some Quechua. We’ll visit indigenous families and learn about Inca textiles. We have the opportunity to stay with one of the families for a night, and we’re even going to have a cooking class.
The second week “is going to be full of adventure as you take on zip lining and mountain biking through the Sacred Valley! You will also have the opportunity to visit one of the most famous destinations in the world: Machu Picchu, the mysterious Lost City of the Incas, now a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. On the first visit to Machu Picchu, you will be able to hike up to Intipunku (Sun Gate) to observe the panoramic view over Machu Picchu at sunset. After observing this breath taking view you will begin a hike back down to the main city of Machu Picchu Inca City, before continuing down the hill to Machu Picchu town” (ROV Peru Program Book).
I believe my undergraduate years have been quite unique. Wonderful and frustrating and full of doubt and impulsive desicion-making. I’ve enjoyed them and I’m still enjoying them but I’m glad they are soon coming to an end. I’m finally graduating in December and even though Florida has been a great home for the past five years, I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to go abroad.
This compulsive traveler is sad that she couldn’t go to an exciting place full of adventures on her last spring break before graduating, but she was at least able to travel through her books.
That’s what happens when I can’t physically travel, I have to travel through books where exciting new things happen as well. I am constantly traveling but soon I’ll be able to hop on a plane with my life in a suitcase or two and arrive at a new country that I will call home for the next year or so…
We stayed out late last night and I realized after reading the last sentence of the last post, that the weekend is really just starting…
I woke up around 10-11am. The plan that day was to go to Madrid and either stay the night or come back really late. I think the latest we could come back was at around 2am because of the bus and train schedules.
I met up with some students from the program and while I was walking to the plaza I saw a wedding ceremony taking place. Well.. more like the dancing part of it. It was awesome!
After everyone goes home for lunch, it’s really hard to get back together to do something. Everyone has lunch at different hours and want to do different things. We tried for hours to plan what to do that day through Facebook messages but having a lot of people agree on what to do for one day is really not as easy as I thought.
I spent an hour sitting at the Mcdonald’s by the Plaza de Cervantes messaging back and forth to try to figure out what to do. (Mcdonald’s has Wi-Fi). I decided to walk around and get lost in this little city and that I did.
I got lost. And then I kept walking and I eventually found my way home.
We decided to go to “El Rastro” the morning after. A very popular open air flee market that they have every Sunday in Madrid.
After I went back home, I watched T.V. with my host family and realized that every American show was in Spanish and had a Spanish accent from Spain. It was the most hilarious event. Don’t get me wrong I laugh with the Simpsons, but hearing Marge telling Bart, “No me agobies que me he quedao viuda” made me laugh so much, even after the show was over. I had never enjoyed the Simpsons so much.
When you study abroad you enjoy everything a little bit more. You get impressed by the little things. You appreciate the every day.
This right here is a picture of what my Spanish breakfast looked like. I learned there that breakfast in Spain is not really that big of a deal as it is in the U.S. Usually the breakfast is the lightest meal of the day and a lot of Spaniards don’t eat it at all. Well… coffee. Everyone has coffee.
In the picture there is a croissant, a magdalena or muffin, orange juice and chocolate milk, because I’m not that big on coffee. Now, this chocolate milk is made with a chocolate powder called cola cao which I miss dearly, and even though I like my very continental American breakfast, I do miss my Spanish breakfast. It may just be the memory it brings mixed with the fact that I’m unable to find cola cao here in the States, but sometimes that’s all I want after I wake up.
It was 59 degrees outside… I woke up really early today. I’m guessing it’s because I was really excited. I didn’t even need my alarm, which is a miracle. My host mom walked with me in the morning to the university, where I had orientation all morning. We took a placement test and discussed important topics such as: historical facts about the city of Alcalá de Henares, information about the university, safety tips, information about public transportation, information about field trips, disciplinary norms and information about internet access. Basically, a lot of information about everything we needed to know.
In orientation, I met other American students from across the country and after orientation was over, we took a tour of Alcalá de Henares. The city is beautiful. While we were touring, a guy that wasn’t part of the tour started screaming, which scared us all, until we realized that someone was recording him. We later found out that high school kids were doing that when they found tourists, as a joke, to put the video of the reactions on YouTube. We laughed afterwards, after the creepy moment had passed.
That last picture is tapas. Something you will love while you’re there. Tapas are basically a variety of Spanish appetizers and snacks that are served when you buy beer or sangria or wine… The concept of the tapas is that you buy an alcoholic beverage and you get free tapas. Apparently, this was something that was done throughout Spain but lately you are unable to find it in most places. (the concept, not the actual tapas. Tapas are everywhere!). However, Alcalá is one of those places where you can still buy a beer and get delicious tapas for free.
We then went to the train station to take a train from Alcalá to Madrid…
Madrid was a city I had been dreaming of for a long time. When I was little, I remember my friends wanted to go to Paris or Rome, and don’t get me wrong I want to go to Paris and Rome as well but Madrid was the place I was always thinking about.
We toured Madrid walking as well, and it was fun being able to see everything but we didn’t really have enough time to stop anywhere, so the guides explained where things were located and how to get to them so we could go on the weekends. They were really sweet and fun.
Madrid is beautiful but that first impression wasn’t the best. It didn’t feel like I thought it would. I took pictures and walked with the group trying to figure out why it didn’t feel like home away from home. The amount of tourists didn’t help either but I kept on walking and snapping away. It turns out, it was just not the right time. I would figure that out, later on…
I believe we came back from Madrid around 9pm and my host mom was waiting for me at the plaza because I don’t know my way home yet. Once we got home, I ate, took a shower, got dressed and met up with students from UCF and other American universities.
We went to a really nice tapas bar, and later on to an Irish pub that was playing bachata and some mix of reggaeton with techno. Jackie and Sydney walked me home after the night was over.
It was the perfect ending to a hectic weekend of cultural immersion. I was sleep deprived and I still couldn’t believe that I was living in Spain…
Upon arrival we got our luggage and bags, went to the plaza across the street and met and left with our host families.
First thing I noticed when I got to Alcala is the greetings. Spaniards kiss twice, once in each cheek. That kind of took me by surprise, but it was easy to get used to. To the point that even back home, we (UCF students that went on the program) still greet ourselves with two kisses.
Warning: Another thing you are going to notice a lot in this city are cigüeñas or storks in historic buildings. These are protected and the city makes sure they are well taken care of, meaning that they provide “them with an easy-to-reach special supply of twigs and branches for their nests, as well as making sure they suffer as few disturbances as possible”(AlcalaNow).
My host family is super nice and chilled. We live 15 minutes walking distance from the university in an apartment. The homes here are small but cozy. The elevator to go to our floor is extremely small, I know my roommate and my friend Barbara would definitely opt for the stairs.
I have no curfew, a set of keys, a room and bathroom to myself. The house rules are pretty standard and I have a pretty cute bunk bed and a nice view.
I got to meet my host sister when she came back from school and Luna, the beauty in the picture below.
Laura is three years younger than me. She is super nice, funny and loves languages. She’s also been to Portugal and Italy and has been telling me all about it.
Alcalá is such a beautiful place.
After I took the siesta (yes! I did take the siesta, that’s why I’m still awake right now), we took a walk around the city so I could learn the route to school and just for me to know where places are at.
There is a bus stop right in front of the apartments. One bus takes you around Alcalá and the sort and the other one takes you to Madrid, to the central station, where you can take buses that go to the rest of Spain.
Alcalá is small but it has a little bit of everything. There are a lot of restaurants, bars, tobacco stores or estancos, “chinos” (which are like convenience stores owned by Chinese people where you can buy pretty much anything), supermarkets, and bookstores. You can also find cathedrals, museums, plazas, and a lot of people.
So far, I really like everything and soon I will write more about it and post a lot of pictures. Tonight however, I’m about to go to sleep because tomorrow is going to be a really long day…
Tomorrow is orientation day, early in the morning, and then in the afternoon, we are going to take a trip to Madri”th”.
This is probably going to be one of the longest posts I will ever write. If you are planning on going to Alcalá de Henares, hang in there, the first 72 hours are pretty eventful and full of excitement.
First of all, I’ll let you all know that it is currently 64 degrees outside. I was expecting a warmer weather and I’m guessing that so was everyone else on the program. I don’t think any of us really packed for it, but we’ll figure things out as we go.
I wasn’t really able to sleep that well the night before I left Florida. I was too excited and had this plan in my mind that I would make myself tired so I could sleep on the 8 hr plane ride and be wide awake when I arrived in Madrid at 7am on the following day. Well… that didn’t really work out.
I got to the Orlando International Airport early in the morning on May 28th, checked my luggage and went through security and on to the gate area with a backpack and a camera bag.
I randomly met Tyler, a guy that is also on the same program as I am, and we talked for a little bit until he had to leave on a flight from Orlando to Charlotte, the stop that we both had to make in order to go to Madrid. However, we were in different flights. He left an hour earlier and so I ate something, walked around, made some calls I had to make before I left and just waited.
The flight was very quick. I was listening to Rozalen all the way there and when I got tired I read the first three or four chapters of “Veronika Decides to Die” in Portuguese.
When I got to Charlotte, I met with Tyler again and we hung out for a few hours until we had to board the plane that would bring us to Madrid.
On the plane we ended up being on the same section. He was a row in front of me across from where I was sitting and had another student next to him that was going to study in Madrid with another program. I on the other hand, had Amanda.
Amanda is a really nice girl from Texas that is also studying abroad for four weeks. She’s studying in the city of Cadiz with another language school. Out of the eight hours that lasted the flight, I’m pretty sure we spoke for 7 1/2.
Sometimes it’s hard to find people interested in languages and education and traveling and all that, so we hit it off pretty quickly. We had fun on the plane trying to figure out what the movies were about, trying to understand what the crew was attempting to say through the speakers that weren’t really working and enjoying the humor, language and personality of an Andalusian lady that was traveling to Cadiz as well.
We had dinner on the plane and it was actually pretty good. They still do the “Chicken or pasta?” that I had not heard in years and they had a really good dessert that I’m still trying to figure out what it was. I’m calling it a “cinnamon oatmeal thingy”.
Later on, we had a snack that was pretty good as well and when we finally landed we stayed in the plane longer than necessary because there was plane traffic. As ridiculous as that sounds, it was true. We stayed on the plane until it was our turn to get off.
We finally gathered our belongings and walked out of the plane, into the Aeropuerto Adolfo Suarez Madrid- Barajas.
First thing that I noticed right off the plane is that people walk and exercise a lot in this country. The path to get to customs was really long with lots of stairs on the way.The people with large carry on luggage were definitely suffering.
When we finally got to customs we didn’t have to fill any paperwork or anything and the line was very short. There were only four maybe five people before me. The security guard that works at customs asked me a few questions about why I was there and for how long I was staying and he stamped my passport!
After that, we waited for each other outside of customs, we went to get our luggage and I had my first mini heart attack when I thought I had lost my phone, but then I found it in the pocket of my camera bag.
See, for this trip I had only two rules.
1. Do NOT lose your passport. (for obvious reasons)
2. Do NOT lose your phone. (It’s your only way of communicating with everyone back home)
We were trying to figure out where would the other girls arrive at so we could wait for them but that was a little more complicated than expected. We arrived in terminal 1 and flights from Miami arrive in terminal 4, we had to take a shuttle.
Before all of this, we needed Wi-Fi or Wee-Fee (as the Spaniards say). The Barajas airport lets you log into their internet for a period of 15 minutes, so that was the time to update Facebook statuses, send texts through WhatsApp, send Snapchats, send emails and Google where things were at, because we were pretty much completely lost. Fifteen minutes was obviously not enough and afterwards we were all left incommunicated.
Tip: For all of you that are coming to Madrid at some point, just know that if you have an Ipod, a smartphone, an Ipad and a computer, you get 15 minutes on each device, so at the end you would have an hour of internet.
Amanda ended up joining Tyler and I in the adventure of finding Jackie and Jillian. We hopped in one of the shuttles that drives from terminal to terminal with all of our luggage and arrived at terminal 4.
Inside an elevator on terminal 4 Amanda found a girl that was from her program and university and she joined us as well. She had already been in Spain for a week or so before the actual program started and was waiting for their professor, as well, to arrive at 10:30am.
As we were waiting, I bought a turkey sandwich for 5,50 euros (so you get an idea of prices for food at the airport) which considering how airport food is always expensive no matter where you are and how hungry I was, it was pretty good. It also tasted really good.
Paying for the food was a little impersonal, I believe, but it was still pretty cool. You put your euros into a machine, and the machine gives you your change. However, If you are paying with credit/debit card, you will need to show your passport to the cashier.
Eventually, we got tired of waiting for the girls and we assumed they had already arrived because that’s what the arrival board said. So we went back to take the shuttle, which took us a little while longer to find this time, and we hopped in with all of our luggage again and left for terminal 1.
If you’re going to Barajas, and you’re in terminal 4 and want to go to another terminal, planta cero is where you will get picked up at.
We finally found the girls and the rest of our group right where we were getting picked up by the staff from the Instituto Franklin and we eventually left on a huge bus to Alcala de Henares, the city where we would all live for the next month or so…