It looks pretty good from this side, right? Don’t let yourself be deceived.

Armenia has a lot of churches. When I say “a lot”, I mean like a waaay lot. You know how people say that Rome has a lot of churches? Basically, it’s like the entire country is Rome. Every village, every hill, every spring, every mountain, every location with a nice view… they all have churches. It’s like our Armenian ancestors wanted to guarantee that no matter where you are in the country, if the mood strikes and you need a place to pray, there’s a church within 100 steps. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but just trust me. There are churches everywhere.

So much natural light in this church! hehehe
Check out how tight those joint are!

There are excursions planned each weekend to different parts of the country, and the destinations for my first weekend were Talin, Dashtadem, and Aruch. None of the places we visited are really on the tourist circuit, so it was a cool chance to get off the beaten path.

Our first stop was the Cathedral of Talin (pronounced tah-LEEN), or at least what used to be the Cathedral of Talin. It was built in the 7th century which probably sounds old, but that’s like a teenager compared to a lot of the other churches here. I’m already becoming immune to these numbers, and when I take a second to think twice about it, it makes me laugh a bit.

Guide: This church was built in the 15th century.

Me: It’s new??! Wait so why are we even here? I’m not impressed anymore.

Guide: This church was built in the 7th century.

Me: If they just built it, why is it already in ruins?

Guide: This church was built in the 4th century.

Me: I bet you think that’s old, right? But did you know that they found the world’s oldest leather shoe in Armenia and it’s from around 3,500 BC? Now THAT is old.

That big hole at the top is where a person can climb in, and you can sort of see hand/footholds leading up to it. It still doesn’t seem very easy.

There were earthquakes, one in the mid-1800s and one in the early 1900s, that destroyed the church. It has been partially reconstructed, but that work was never completed. It’s interesting because you can tell how big a city used to be by looking at the size of the church there. This church was HUGE, and that is enough to know that the city of Talin used to be much larger than it is now.

One cool thing that we saw there is little hideouts for the priests/monks. There are two prayer rooms on the sides of the altar, and inside, there are sneaky hand and footholds that lead to a hole in the ceiling where someone could climb up to hide or escape if the church was being attacked. They could cover the entrance hole with a rock, or else they could defend themselves fairly easily from that position. There are also places to hide books, basically holes in the walls that you can cover with a rock.

From there, we went to Dashtadem where there’s a not-that-old fortress that was used from the 10th-19th centuries. Now it’s in ruins, and until recently, there were families living there and taking rocks from the keep to use in their houses. There have been renovations and excavations going on… I’m not sure that anything is happening there now, but within the last 10 years work was going on. You can go on top of the keep, and the views from there are really nice. There are also a TON of birds nesting in the ruins, so there’s a 90% chance that you’ll get pooped on if you go. Apparently that’s a new problem.

The fortress!
Check out that view
Pretty ruins, huh?
Bird poop covered wall
Here’s the wall I climbed down. Not from the top! But you see where the rough stones end on the left side, that’s where I came out, right where there’s the gap. I wish a person was in there for scale, but even when I was hanging straight armed from the wall, I still didn’t feel like I was close enough to the ground to just let myself fall

Someone convinced me to take the “secret exit” out of the keep, aka a not very big tunnel through the wall, and failed to mention that once you make it through the tunnel, you need to find your way down from the top of a probably 10-12 foot high wall. Luckily there were a few other people there who had just made it down, so I had some spotters looking out for me.

For lunch, we went to the house of some guy who one of the Birthright directors met one time when they visited the fortress. He agreed to host the future groups for lunch and music and dancing, so that’s how we ended up with 70 people in some random guy’s house, eating enough food for 150. At the end of the meal, he and his son and another guy who was probably related played some Armenian music for us, and after a few songs, we headed outside to dance! It was fun, and I also realized that while my Armenian language skills aren’t the best, I can hold my own on the dance floor (or dance field). Thank goodness for hantes (Armenian dance recitals back in grade school) and Armenian weddings!

The dance group that led us

By the last stop, I think everyone was ready to collapse. We went to one more church, Aruchavank, which was built sometime in the 7th century. It was also damaged during earthquakes, but the structure has been completely restored with the exception of the dome. It is also huge, though the cathedral in Talin was bigger. You can see the remnants of some frescoes above the altar, and I love closing my eyes and trying to imagine what it was like back in its glory days. Anyway, that’s all. Here are some pictures, if you can even stand to look at more pictures of churches.

Aruchvank. Doesn’t it kind of just look like a big house without the dome?
It’s kind of funny that the only thing missing is the dome…
There are crosses carved EVERYWHERE

I’ve been loving our little weekend adventures! For the last few Saturdays, we’ve been sleeping in, taking some free time in the morning, and then going somewhere and doing something together in the afternoon/evening. It’s the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure so you don’t feel like the whole day was wasted.

Yesterday morning was especially good for me because I finally put my foot down and forced myself to finish the planning for my trip to Machu Picchu. I had been mulling over the train times and other options for days at that point and just needed to decide. My biggest choice was whether I wanted to do an organized trek with a company or just go on my own, and I ultimately decided that it would be better on my own because I’ll be able to go at my pace and do all of the things I want without worrying about a group. After I decided that, I had to pick train times, and that’s complicated because you have to get to the train station in a town that’s about an hour away from Cuzco. I was originally thinking that I would hike Machu Picchu and take a train back that same night, but then I was worried about having to figure out transport back to Cuzco in the dark and by myself. All that worrying finally led me to the conclusion that I should just stay over two nights in the town by Machu Picchu because if the thought of doing it in a day was stressing me out that much, it probably wasn’t right.

In summary, I got my train tickets and Machu Picchu tickets and hostel booking all finished, and I feel a million times more relaxed as a result. Why didn’t I just do it earlier? That’s always the question after you procrastinate something, and somehow, I still haven’t learned my lesson. The answer is, yeah, I probably should have. Now it’s finished though, so we can put that behind us!

See the streetlights? See the street?

Our afternoon adventure was a trip to Pucusana, the same fishing village that we went to when the team was here. The car was being used, so we took public transportation there instead. There is a very similar system here to what they have in Ghana with tro tros. Here they’re called combis (cohm-bee) and the fare collector is a cobrador, rather than a “mate” like in Ghana. Conceptually though, they’re completely the same. Super packed and super cheap. We got a ride to Pucusana for 1 sol (1 USD = about 3.25 soles). It’s usually maybe a 10-15 minute ride, but we hit some traffic because there was a “huaico” (mudslide) last week, and the street is still underwater.

Yeah, there’s a street somewhere under there…

This is the second time in the last few weeks that there’s been a huaico there, and we learned that the problem started because of some bad decisions. There’s a river bed that had been dry “for a while” (I know no specifics), so recently, the land there was developed. Good idea, right? Except there’s been more rain than usual in the highlands this year, and all of that water needs to go somewhere. Instead of just flowing down the river as it would have in the past, it’s been flooding the new developments and overflowing because there’s no path for it to follow anymore. Who knows what is going to be done about it, but it seems clear that something has to change. It’s all politics though, so it could take forever.

Looking towards Pucusana from the top of the hill

Anyway, we eventually made it into town and hiked up a hill to watch the sunset over the ocean. I love the mountains here… the sunset made the sky glow orange in all directions, and the mountains behind Pucusana looked like something from another planet. It was surreal.


Mars mountains

We stuck around for dinner and got a pizza at an Italian restaurant nearby. Weekends are a wonderful break from the rice, rice, and rice that we eat every day during the week. Out of the nine meals that we have prepared for us each week, I’d say at least 7-8 involve rice. I love carbs, and that’s a lot even for me. So yeah, the pizza was a nice change of pace! For dessert, we got picarones (pee-cah-ROH-nays), Peruvian doughnuts made from sweet potato and squash and coated in a syrup that Debbie and Julie said was made with figs (figs are a big deal around here), but who knows. I was definitely a fan of the picarones (it was like eating fried air… yes, I know that doesn’t make sense), but I could have done without the sauce. Maple syrup probably would have been really good on them, or just a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Either way, I would do it again.

My picarones

It was a short adventure but more than worth the trip. We took a combi back to the highway and then went the rest of the way on a moto. The motos are like if you chopped the back wheel off of a motorcycle, connected the front part to a carriage, and stuck a tarp over it. You end up with three-wheeled “taxis” with space for a driver on the motorcycle part and about three full-sized passengers on the bench seat behind them (though three is just the maximum number for a comfortable ride… it seems like ‘as many as you can cram inside’ is the maximum number allowed).

This isn’t a great picture, but you can see some motos on the street

Today was the usual church, grocery shopping, cleaning, and working on my to-do list. Big changes are ahead tomorrow! School starts and with it come the afterschool and overnight programs. Goodbye quiet, kid-less nights. See you next weekend.

We had another weekend of freedom!! It is so incredibly nice to have a break, especially with the end of summer school and the craziness of the last week, trying to get everything done. We went on another mini-adventure yesterday to make the most of our time!

From the moment I woke up, the day was already going wonderfully. Why? Because I got up at 9AM after 10 WHOLE HOURS of sleep! In the scheme of my normal life, 10 hours really isn’t that much. In the scheme of my life here, 10 hours is nearly unheard of. Same with 9AM. Ah, Saturdays! They really are the best. We intentionally planned our destination to allow for some morning relaxation time, and honestly, that was equally as nice and rejuvenating as the actual adventure. I even had time to do some reading, organize my stuff, and catch up on a few things that I had been putting off before we had to head out for the day.

Horrible picture, but this is the beginning of the dirt road to get there

Julie, Debbie, and I headed out around 11:45AM and stopped in Chilca to pick Vanessa up on our way. I was excited to have some time to hang out with her that didn’t involve talking about work/summer school! Our destination was Azpitia, a town about 45 minutes south of us. It’s just about in the middle of nowhere, and apparently, Jim and Tony randomly stumbled upon it years ago when they were doing some exploration driving where you just take turns and see where you end up. After getting there, I seriously have NO idea how they found it. You get off the highway at an exit that seems deserted, go down a skinny paved road, and then turn off onto an unpaved road that looks like a driveway. How did they even decide that it was a road? I don’t know.

First glimpse of the valley, plus a view of the road we had to take to get there

Debbie, me, Vanessa, and Julie

You drive along that mess of a road – windy, unpaved, and dusty – for maybe 10 minutes before coming around a bend and BAM you’re hit with an amazing view of a green valley. Remember, we’re in the desert here, so “green” isn’t exactly common. We’re used to a whole lot of brown, brown, brown. The reason everything is so green there is because of the river Mala that flows through the town. Early in the town’s development, the people created an irrigation system to turn this desert valley into a viable location for farming. Looking at it now, there’s no argument that it has been anything less than a huge success.

So much green! You can see the river at the bottom of the picture, but it’s a little hard to pick out because it’s so brown

We ate lunch and then spent some time walking around. You can walk along the cliff that leads down to the river, and there are a bunch of restaurants that seem precariously perched over the edge but that give you an incredible view of the valley. There’s also a fun sidewalk which is worth noting because it has trees growing out of it, situated in an irrigation channel that runs down the middle of the walkway. We took a steep staircase down to the river which is probably the brownest thing in the whole valley. I don’t know that it’s usually like that, but there has been more rain than usual this year, and a lot of the rivers are apparently higher and dirtier than in past years.

The clever irrigation sidewalks

Cool trees

Looking towards the ocean

Up close and personal with the river

We headed back to Chilca after our mini-hike. It wasn’t the longest adventure ever, but it was relaxing and beautiful and refreshingly green which was enough to make it perfect. Even better, we had plenty of time to come home, watch a stupid movie, and get to bed before the neighbors’ parties really got going.
Today was the usual Sunday routine but thankfully without the panicked last-minute prep for class. Church, grocery shopping, and time to chill before we get back to work tomorrow. I’m not completely sure what this upcoming week is going to involve, but we have a one week break to get everything ready for the start of school next week. As far as I know, my job is to just do as I’m told… I can handle that.

We had a rare treat this weekend… a day off! Actually, we technically had two days off (a normal weekend… imagine that!), but Debbie and I had to do some prep for class today, so maybe we’ll settle at a day and a half.

A cool but also semi creepy mural…

In celebration of our vacation, we planned a trip into Lima on Saturday. Debbie and Julie’s favorite part of town is the Barranco district, described by them as “hipster Lima”. It’s the part of the city where a lot of artists and musicians live, and you can definitely feel the artsy vibe (plus there are murals everywhere). There is also a famous 19th century bridge, the Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs), that crosses a ravine (“Barranco” = ravine) turned walkway to the beach (called the Bajada de los Baños). As you might imagine, this part of the district is very popular, especially during the summer months as people are actually going to the beach. The beaches in the area are PACKED, and the waves are decent so there are also a lot of surfers (fun fact: the “shores of Peru” are given a shout out in the Beach Boys song, Surfin’ Safari).

Heading down to the beach

The cliffs and the remaining part of the walkway to get all the way down to the beach

Looking at the way back up

Headed back up…

The church next to the main plaza: Parroquia La Santísima Cruz

I’m getting a little ahead of myself though… As I was saying, we decided to go into Lima, but not until around noon so that we could sleep in!! I got a whole 10 hours of sleep! Plus I had time to accomplish things before we left. It takes about an hour to get into that part of Lima from where we are, and after we got to Barranco, we ate lunch at a Mexican restaurant and did the walk down to the beach. The way down is nice and scenic, and the way up is nice and steep. As a reward for our good walk, we got some gelato and watched some spectacle that was going on in the main plaza. No one in our group seemed to know exactly what it was, but there were a bunch of groups dressed in traditional attire (someone said they were from the highlands but who knows) and doing dances. I wish I had any idea of what was going on/that we were a little closer, but it was still cool to see everyone’s outfits.

Bike ride!

Our last stop of the day was Larcomar, a shopping mall in the Miraflores district of Lima. We rented bikes, per my request, because I’m working on a bucket list goal of biking on every continent (shout out to Kristine who came up with the idea for herself and allowed it to be stolen by me). I only have Oceania/Australia and Antarctica left, and don’t even ask me how I’m going to accomplish that last one.

Early sunset from Parque del Amor

Late sunset from elsewhere along the cliffs

We biked down the road that runs along the cliffs to “Parque del Amor” (Love Park) and then paused and found a good spot to watch the sunset. The sunsets here are pretty amazing, and there are people lined up along all the good lookout spots on the cliffs (Miraflores is basically city, cliffs, beach, ocean) to enjoy the view. You can’t go wrong when you end a day by watching an awesome sunset! Afterwards, we headed back to the mall to return the bikes and then to the car to make the trek home. By the time we got back, I was wiped out. Good thing too because our neighbors kept up their perfect record of Saturday night parties, but I was so tired that I fell asleep without a problem.

Today was the usual Sunday schedule – church, grocery shopping, some relaxation time, and class planning with Debbie. As much as I’ve enjoyed teaching this class, I also won’t be too upset when we don’t have to prep for it anymore! Teaching is a lot of work! The last week of summer school starts tomorrow, so we only have 2 more classes to finish off the robot and city projects. We can do it! I think. I hope.

​This weekend has been completely packed. I didn’t get a chance to write yesterday because it was crazy from morning to night… we didn’t get home until after 11PM! I, of course, was a total mess and couldn’t keep my eyes open, so I decided it was better to just go to sleep rather than attempt to write something (that inevitably would have been incoherent).

Punta Negra

Yesterday was the team’s last day, aka my last day of coffee duty! I rolled out of bed just in time to get the coffee started at 6AM, took a quick shower, ran back to the kitchen to make breakfast, etc. etc. etc. until after worship when I took a 45 minute nap because I knew there was no chance of me making it through the day without one.

The team was ready to go around 11:30AM, and that’s when our adventure started. Most (if not all) of the flights to the US from Lima leave in the middle of the night, so we had the entire day to spend sightseeing in the city. Our first stop was for lunch, at a hotel in Punta Negra where Jim and Tony used to live before the EA buildings were complete enough to move in. Tony ordered a bunch of different dishes so that people could try a few things. I had some arroz chaufa (basically fried rice), lomo saltado (beef stir fry), sweet potato slices (potatoes are very popular here), and a piece of corn tamale (ground up corn and some other things all mushed into a rectangle). The sweet potatoes and tamale weren’t my favorite things… The potatoes had a confusing bitter taste to them, and the tamale wasn’t my favorite texture. It was nice to have a chance to try some different things without committing to a whole plate though!

Plaza San Martín. The statue is of José de San Martín, Peru’s liberator.

The beach at the hotel was also nice. There’s no beach access without going through one of the hotels/restaurants in the strip, so that makes it into a kind of private beach. It wasn’t very crowded there, partly because of the “private-ish beach” thing, and partly because the waves are huge which makes it a less desirable location for people who want to go in the water. I had no interest in touching the sand or the water though, so I was happy to have less people and get to see the big waves (from afar).
The Palace of Justice, home of Peru’s supreme court.

The rest of the day was filled with sightseeing! We drove into central Lima, checked out some of the historic stuff I saw a couple weeks ago (though all access to the plaza was blocked, so we didn’t get to go back there to see the President’s house, etc), and then drove up the coast to an overlook where you can see the city. The coast is awesome because there are these huge cliffs between the city and the beaches. They’re probably a pain to walk up and down and to deal with (and they’re all covered in netting because I’m sure they have rock slides all the time), but they’re definitely beautiful.

Debbie, Julie, and me at the overlook

The overlook was one of my favorite parts of the day because I don’t think I fully appreciated the size of Lima before seeing it from that vantage point. When I say that the city stretched as far as the eye can see, I am not exaggerating. In every direction, the buildings just looked like they continued on forever. There’s also a massive statue of Jesus at the top (Cristo del Pacifico), and you can see him standing on top of that mountain from miles and miles away.
Buildings everywhere. If I had turned my camera to the right, you would see more of the same type of congestion.

The last part of the day before dinner and heading to the airport was a stop at the Inca Market, an artisan market that’s great for souvenirs. We split into groups, and I enjoyed walking around, seeing everything that the stores had to offer, and practicing my Spanish. A lot of people spoke enough English to say prices and such, but they were definitely happy when they realized that they could speak Spanish to us instead! And I even spoke a little! And no one looked at me like I was speaking gibberish! Maybe they were just being polite, but we’re going to go with “I nailed it” instead.
Lima on one side of the mountain, and this on the other side.

Dinner, the drive to the airport, and the drive back to EA after the airport were completely exhausting. I was falling asleep in the van all the way home. I even started doing that thing where someone talks to you and you can understand them, but when you go to answer, you’re way too tired to put words together so it just sounds like gobbledygook. Needless to say, the discoteca is going to have to try harder if it wants to keep me awake because I’ve been having some exhausting Saturdays recently!
How cool is that sunset?!?!

Today was one of those days where you have a lot to do, make a to do list, work on things all day, and realize that you actually completed zero of the things on your list, despite the fact that you were running around all day. I don’t even know how I filled the hours today, but I blinked, and the day was close to over. I spent a decent amount of time doing laundry, cleaning my room, and moving from the room I’m in right now into Debbie’s room because Kait, the last missionary, is coming back this week, and I was in her room.
Okay, I should get to bed now… Tomorrow is bound to be another hectic, nonstop kind of day, and Debbie and I have to start our robot lessons in the morning. I’m keeping my fingers crossed…

Secret beach! El Boquerón. I love the view of the buildings in the background.

Despite losing a Sunday of personal time because of the team’s arrival, today was a great day! Since the team is here, there’s a whole plan of things to do and see to give them a picture of Peru and its culture. They’re all things that I haven’t done yet either, so I’m totally fine with being responsible for a couple more things over the next few days if that means I get to do all of this stuff with them!

Here’s a view looking towards the direction of the ocean. You can’t see through the tunnel from this angle, but it’s a little bit out of frame to the right.

My responsibilities over the next week include making breakfast each day (putting out cereal and milk, making coffee, cutting bread, and scrambling an incredible number of eggs), so I headed to the kitchen around 8:15 to get it ready for 9AM. I can now say that I have scrambled 35 eggs at once! Life skills, right? After breakfast, we had a little community worship where Jim and Tony talked about how they ended up here and Jim gave a mini-sermon. Then, Debbie walked everyone around the property and explained what the ministry does (which yes, I know I still have to write a post about more of the details of that… I’ll do it soon! It’s good that I waited though because I’m still learning more and more about how things work every day).
The coolest part of the day was going into Pucusana for lunch! Pucusana is a fishing village that’s only about a 10 minute drive (if that) from where we live. We had lunch at a restaurant right next to this place where there’s a tunnel through a hill that lets ocean water pass into a little beach area. I liked watching the waves come out of the tunnel, wash over the rocks, and fill the pool that creates what feels like a secret beach (besides the fact that it’s clearly not a secret, but that’s a minor detail).

The cancha (to the left) and lomo saltado (to the right)

For lunch, I had lomo saltado. It’s another typical Peruvian dish and is a beef stir fry served with rice and french fries. The stir fry included beef, onions, tomatoes, and maybe some kind of pepper? I’m not the best at identifying foods, but I think that’s right. They also put out cancha as an appetizer. It’s a popular snack food here and is supposedly similar to corn nuts, but I can’t confirm because I don’t think I’ve ever had corn nuts. It’s definitely not exactly the same though because the corn here is different from the corn at home. It’s called “maiz chulpe” and has massive kernels… like nickel sized probably. The texture of cancha is baffling to me (my mouth can’t figure it out), but I think Debbie nailed it today when she said it’s like inside out popcorn. For the seasoning, I think it usually just is cooked in oil and has salt on it.
Debbie, me, and Julie pre-boat ride

Our post-lunch activity was a boat ride around Pucusana Island. There’s not much happening on the island, people-wise, but there are a bunch of animals hanging out there. We saw sea lions, penguins (!!!), starfish, some birds that I should remember but don’t, and a few other things. We also saw a lot of yachts and rich person vacation houses. There was one that had part of the house next to the bottom of a cliff, another part at the top of the cliff, and an elevator connecting the two. There are also a few beaches which were completely packed. I’m really glad that I got to go on the boat ride. It was interesting getting to see everything from the water!

Sea lions napping in the sun

How cool!!!
On the right side, you can see the house I was talking about with the elevator!
More houses in the hills.
This person has some serious landscaping… A speck of green in a sea of brown, brown, brown. It looks like it got plucked out of somewhere else and plopped down here.
Boat gas station!

When we got back, I spent some time attempting to build a practice robot for our class (let’s just say it’s still a work in progress) before Julie and I had to get dinner ready. We made pasta salad for the team, and I was totally lost. “Pasta salad” isn’t even in my vocabulary. Why would you take the perfection that is pasta and sully its reputation by associating it with something like salad?? Sorry, side rant. Anyway, like I said, pasta salad = not really my thing, but I think it turned out fine (thanks to Julie and her exceptional dicing skills). At least all I have to make for the rest of the week is more scrambled eggs! That’s something I can handle.

The view from my beach chair

The mission team arrives tonight, and they’re going to be here for the next week. Since we’re going to be running around the entire time they’re here, Debbie decided that we should have a “mandatory fun” trip to the beach. I needed some convincing, mostly because I can’t stand sand, but she promised that I would have a chair to sit on (since I refuse to lay on a towel… too close to the sand). I was a little skeptical, but we ended up having a really nice morning. We mostly just sat, read, and got sunburns (yes, we did put sunscreen on… no, we didn’t reapply). The beaches around us are beautiful. They all have big rocks and cliffs and millions of little crabs with those stick up eyes that you see on crabs in cartoons.

Giant flower pot in your parking spot? No problem, just park next to it. No matter if you’re half in the street because everyone else is too.

On the way home, we went on a big quest/adventure to find sheet metal for the robots we’re going to make in class. Eventually, we found our way to a construction material warehouse. We only needed a small piece of sheet metal, about 20”x10”, but of course they only sold it in sheets that are something like 4’x8’. Sooo now we have a little extra sheet metal and zero ideas about what to do with it.

More beach awesomeness

When we got back to Esperanza de Ana, it was supposed to be time to take showers and get back to work. I had some trouble motiving myself, killed a lot of time before my shower, and ended up being ready to do work around 4:30. Our big task of the day was to build a sample robot for our class, and I completely failed… not because I messed it up but because I didn’t actually build anything. I didn’t know where all of the materials were, and Debbie was in a meeting so I didn’t want to bother her. Yes, I’m making excuses because if I had actually stuck to the schedule, Debbie would have been able to help me. Instead, I just gathered together the materials I could find, and spent most of the rest of my time until dinner reading about Spanish verbs.
But really… How cool is that?

Now, my eyes are fighting to stay open (I’m starting to feel like I should be getting to bed much earlier each night…) even with the ridiculous club music that the house 2 properties down is blasting. This is great though. If I keep having exhausting Saturdays, I’ll never have any trouble falling asleep through this ruckus. A very small silver lining…

Looking upstream from the hotel

Since this is James’s last weekend, the activity of the day was up to him. He decided that he wanted to go to the hotel in Atimpoku (the same one we went to for Nico’s birthday, months and months ago) and swim. We all slept in and took our sweet time getting ready to go, so we didn’t leave home until around 11AM and got there a little after 11:30.

Our farewell picture with Luke… Yara, Nick, Luke, me, Lily, and James

The next few hours were spent hanging out by the river, playing Taboo, listening to music, and just spending time together. These are some of my favorite times. The community that we have here is great, and it’s going to be weird when I’m not living with so many people anymore. It’s actually starting to sink in that James is leaving in two days, which in turn is making it start to sink in that I’m leaving in a little more than a week. Like what?

Looking downstream from the bridge

The good news is that I’m feeling at peace about it. If you had asked me three weeks ago, I would have told you that I was freaking out that I only had a month left. I even had a nightmare about it, no joke. In a nutshell, I was home and I didn’t remember how I got there or anything about my last month in Ghana. I was happy to see my family until I realized that the dream wasn’t right, so I was yelling, “this isn’t right! I’m not supposed to be here yet!” Yeah, it was dramatic. Now though, I’m feeling okay. I am still so happy to be here, but I feel content with what I’ve done and not like I have a lot of unfinished business. It’s a good feeling to have because now I can just enjoy my last week and not feel like I have to fit all of this stuff in before I can be ready.

Anna, me, Yara, and Nick on the bridge

On that topic though, I have a list of all of the stuff I want to fit in before I leave. Yes, I know that sounds like I just contradicted myself, and maybe I did, but just bear with me. The things on my list are mostly activities that I have wanted to do for a while now and never got around to. I’m determined to do all of them in the next week. Today, I crossed my first thing off the list! There’s a bridge that goes across the Volta River in Atimpoku, Adomi Bridge. The views off the two sides are awesome, and I’ve been wanting to walk across for months now. Often, we’re just driving through Atimpoku. Obviously we aren’t going to get off a tro just to walk across the bridge, so today was perfect! Instead of catching a tro on the west side of the river, we walked across and got a cab on the east side. Check that item off the Ghana bucket list!

Adomi Bridge
These plants are so cool! I know they’re not just a Ghana thing, but I’ve never seen them before. When you touch the leaves, they close up for about a minute and then reopen. It’s like you’re a magician! Here’s a before picture, and the next one is after I touched them.
Where did they go?!
The bridge from afar

Our hotel… More little huts!

Another travel day! This one was actually longer than the one on Friday because we had to go from the lake to Kumasi before we could start moving in the direction of home. I’m getting ahead of myself though. Yesterday, we all took guesses on how long trip home would take, so I kept track of all of the times of the different parts of the trip. Most of the others insisted that it would take 8 hours (excluding a couple who abstained), but I put my money on 10 hours. Yes, technically it should take closer to 8, but when it comes to traveling here, how often do things actually work out the way you think they should? Answer: never.
Here’s how the day went:

Once people started getting off the first tro, I was loving life. Plenty of space to stretch out! Plus I had a window seat.

6:30AM – My alarm went off, I grumbled my way out of bed, and we got ready/packed our stuff.

7:15AM – We all met at the reception desk and started the walk back to town. This time wasn’t as miserable because it was so early and the sun wasn’t too hot yet.

7:30AM – We arrived in town and tracked down a guy who knew a guy who drives a taxi. He called his friend to come get us. We bought crackers to eat for breakfast (nutritious, I know).

On the way out of Kumasi

8:00AM – The taxi arrived, we fought with the driver over the price and lost, and we started making our way back to Kumasi in a taxi driven by a maniac.

9:20AM – The taxi dropped us off in Kumasi, near Central Market. We asked around until someone pointed us in the direction of the tro we needed, and luckily it filled up soon after we got on (though not so soon that we didn’t have time to buy and eat some Fan Ice).

9:50AM – Our tro left Kumasi. Hooray! It was probably the most intense tro I’ve ever been on. It actually had a functional TV playing some weird movie that all of the guys got really into .


12:15PM – We found out that the mate (the guy who collects the money on the tro) lied to us, and the tro we were on wasn’t actually going to Kpong. We pulled over and he stuck us in another tro that he said was going there.

2:40PM – We found out that the first mate and the second mate both lied to us, and this tro was only going to Kofridua (about 45 minutes from Kpong). They stuck us in another tro.

4:10PM – Tro #3 finally arrived in Kpong. We got off and transferred to one that would take us the rest of the way to Frankadua.

4:18PM – Tro #4 left Kpong.

5:10PM – We arrived in Frankadua, almost exactly 10 hours after leaving the lake.

It’s amazing how exhausting traveling can be, even though all you’re doing is sitting for hours on end. I’m completely wiped, so I should probably get to bed. The only issue with sleep is that our fan broke this weekend, and it hasn’t been fixed. We currently have some wires hanging out of the ceiling where our fan should be. It’s going to be a hot night…

A panoramic picture from the “middle” of the lake as I stood in our canoe and prayed that I wouldn’t fall in or tip us.

The plan this morning was to get a nice “early” start at 8:45AM, but obviously that fell through and we all met for breakfast at around 9:30. The three options we had for activities were hiking, biking, and canoeing. Most of the group vetoed hiking, said maybe to canoeing (but it required walking the half hour back to the town we came from yesterday), and said yes to biking.

After looking into the bike situation, we had to reevaluate. The hotel down the road had three bikes, and the neighboring town had two. With the addition of Josie and Peter to our group, we were seven. A call to someone in the town changed the plans even more because apparently those two bikes weren’t available. That left us with three bikes and seven people. The only solution was to split up, since probably nothing besides hiking would be able to accommodate all of us. Anna, Yara, and James took the bikes, and Nick and I headed to the town with Peter and Josie to hunt down some canoes.

Nick and Josie

I thought that the walk from our hotel wouldn’t be as bad as yesterday without our bags, but I was wrong. It was just as far as I remembered, there’s nearly no shade along the route, and by the time we left, the sun was high in the sky. Within a minute of leaving, I was already sweating. Typical. Eventually, we made it to the town and found a guy who knew a guy who had two canoes, but he thought the guy took his canoes to the top of one of the mountains because they belong to someone who lives in the US and that’s where the person wanted them. Or something. I don’t know, I really didn’t understand what he was saying, but he led us to the guy, the guy said, “I’ll go get them,” and 20 minutes later we had two canoes. Whatever works, I guess.

Nick and Peter

Nick and I took one, Josie and Peter took the other, and we rowed out to the middle of the lake (by “middle” I mean definitely not the middle because that’s pretty far… more like we rowed for 20 minutes and then stopped). There’s not much to do in the middle of a lake besides swim, so even though I wasn’t planning to, we all hopped out and splashed around in the water before hopping back in and floating around until it was time for us to return the boats. The water was kind of weird… it was mostly warm with a couple of really cold spots. I couldn’t stay in long because I started freaking myself out. We didn’t ask what kinds of creatures live in the lake, so I always manage to dream up some terrifying sea monster, start thinking it’s right under me, and have to get out of the water immediately.

The view of the lake was amazing and being out there was so serene. Peter commented on how quiet it was out on the water and how it’s probably the first time he’s heard no noise since he’s been in Ghana. I think I’ve only experienced complete silence here when I go to the farm in the afternoons by myself. Otherwise, there’s always singing or music playing or town announcements or chickens and goats and frogs and pigs and crickets. Have I ever mentioned the town announcements? Oh yeah, those happen at around 5AM on Wednesdays and sometimes other days too. It’s really a wonderful way to wake up. Anyway, it was nice to enjoy a little silence for once.

Nick and Peter playing soccer on the beach with some locals. I’m not the only one who ignores pain in order to fit in… Both of them came back with huge blisters on the bottoms of their feet because the sand was so hot but they didn’t want to stop playing because their feet couldn’t handle it.

We stayed in the town for a late lunch which was accompanied by the sounds of a soccer game on the beach nearby, some music blasting next to the restaurant, and what sounded like band practice happening by the soccer game. Ah. Back to normal. We eventually made the long walk back to our hotel, hung out by the lake until dinnertime, and now I’m about ready to pass out.