The last three weeks or so have been the biggest whirlwind of my service so far. I feel like I say things like that a lot. Then again, I feel that my experience is in such constant flux that maybe it just always feels like that. Except for the dead times, which are sneaking up again.
My business group girls finished their business plan. After a six-week course on Youth Entrepreneurship, in which they were able to realize some micro-businesses for a week, with “very official” loans from the Bank of Courtney, I selected all the winners to participate in a further course. We spent the last few months delving much further in to how to run a business. It culminated in days and days of actually writing a full business plan. They had slowly been preparing this same business idea throughout the duration of the entire course, but when it came time to actually sit and write it, it was quite the trial.
These kids graduate high school having never actually read a book or written anything longer than a paragraph. When they do write a page or two, it is copied by rote. These girls knew their business, knew the principles, and had a solid idea of what they needed to put down. But I had them write a full 18 pages, typed up, to send in to Lima for the National Youth Business Plan Competition. It ended up being meeting every day, for hours, to get it together. I refused to do even a sentence of it for them, instead making suggestions on every paragraph or so. They did it.
So one of the girls and I went to Lima, with a profesora from their Colegio accompanying to escort her back after. She had to give a presentation of her business plan to a panel of professional judges from the Embassy, the American Chamber of Commerce, and heads of Peruvian businesses, and in front an audience of other volunteers and students from around the country. I made her do this all herself too, even the powerpoint. She did well.
In a moment of unbelievable excitement, my girls won second place. I had sadly been a doubter. My girls were the youngest there, just barely 15, while others were college students in their early 20s. My girls' idea was one of the more out there ones – opening an art center with classes and an artesanía shop, while most the rest were juice stands and cuy farms and things more tangible. My little girl's powerpoint was so much less polished than the rest and she had gotten so flustered in her presentation that she forgot to explain what the business IS. I was glad to see my doubts shattered.
It all came together and now my girls will be receiving the start-up money to actually open this crazy thing here in the Plaza in Santa Cruz. This means I now have a shit ton of work to do. But it's pretty cool...
As soon as the competition was over, the profesora and the child skittered off back to the mountains and I was officially on vacation. Ridiculously exciting. That next day was the first actual vacation day I had ever used. I had only gone before for the free days of Thanksgiving and 4th of July, not more than long weekends.
That was Friday and the only other volunteer staying in town that night was Biz and we kind of owned Lima for a night. Biz fell up a flight of steps and I ran full speed into a wall. So that's a good night. The next morning, Ellen rolled in and she went with me to the airport. My friend Ben friggin' Brown flew in from the US to visit for 9 days. The first familiar face in 15 months. Super disorienting at first. So exciting too.
Ben and I went and did some Lima exploring for the night, after a big ceviche dinner with Biz and Ellen. The next morning they took off, Lisa rolled in, and we had a long semi-lazy day before en and I hopped an overnight bus to Huaraz, in the department of Ancash.
Huaraz is a high Andes town and the capital of mountain adventure in Perú. It is at about 10,000 feet and is the base camp for all sorts of mountain climbing, rafting, rock climbing, horseback riding, bungee jumping, ice caving, and a million other awesome things. When we rolled in, Ben, coming from sea level, was already hit with altitude sickness. So we relaxed all day that day, got on all the necessary meds and planned our next trips.
The next day we woke up at the crack of dawn to catch the van to the trailhead for the day's acclimatization hike. They said this hike was of a pretty decent level of difficulty and went to a lake at about 14,500 feet. They said if we could do that, we could survive any of the longer non-technical treks.
I had thus far been unaffected by the altitude, since I live at about 7,000 feet in Cajamarca. It wasn't until we got another couple thousand feet up that I got hit and it was brutal. Also, kind of hilarious. By the end of this three hours climb, I was taking a breath for every step, setting goal posts for myself on where I was allowed to throw up, and laughing and practically crawling along with this nice Argentinian girl.
The views were breathtaking the whole way, just climbing up and around all these huge glaciar topped peaks, but the lake itself was the perfect cherry on top. A color of blue that puts Crater Lake to shame, sitting literally feet below a huge sparkling glacier. As the sun shone on, chunks of ice starting falling off the glacier, into the lake, keeping it exceptionally cool for us. So, of course, we decided to strip down and jump in.
and so... Panties! Except the French girl, of course. And I had already started getting dressed again before the group shot.
That last picture is the whole crew we were hiking with. Some french kids, Argentinians, a Peruvian, an Ireali, some Austrians, some Swiss, and Ben and I as the sole Estadounidenses. It was a great crew and we all became buddies. We decided on the van ride back that we all needed like NINE beers after that trek.
To be continued in a few days...