No Place Like Home

Hola!

ohio

Home – Springfield, Ohio

Well I’m back in Cusco after a month long home visit to Ohio for the holidays. It was so very refreshing to be reunited with my family and friends! I made it even more exciting by going home early to surprise most of them. ūüėČ Shortly after returning home I attended my graduation ceremony which was a pretty awesome feeling, especially having all of my family there to share it with me. So I am officially a Wright State University alumni! I didn’t do anything extravagant during my visit, I just wanted to spend quality time with¬†everyone and it was perfect. After the new year, I was having mixed feelings of being ready to return to Cusco, but not wanting to leave everyone at home. The struggle is real having people you love so much in different parts of the world! But I was eager¬†to get back to my life in Peru and begin¬†all of these new endeavors! Saying goodbye to everyone was difficult,¬†as always, and I already cannot wait to see them again.

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Graduation – WSU

goodbyeUpon returning to my new home I was reunited with Leo and we began working. Leo is now managing his family¬†hotel in Plaza de Armas in the center of Cusco. The hotel came with a lot of work so we have been busy every day getting things rearranged, and starting fresh with the business to get ready for high season in April. He and I work together on as much as possible and we make a good, productive¬†team. As if the work at the hotel wasn’t enough,¬†I am now in my second week of my online Masters program. Wow, is it a lot of work! Well, mostly lots of reading. So I am a busy lady these days!

My birthday is just around the corner, in February, and I’ve been wanting to do something adventurous to celebrate. Leo and I decided to spend a week in the northern coast of Peru, Tumbes, at a beach called Punta Sal. The ocean¬†IS my happy place and its been way too long since I’ve visited the beach. There is really no other place I would rather spend my birthday. Can’t wait!

plaza

Plaza de Armas – Cusco, Peru

 

Other than that, I’m just getting back into the groove of things as being a Cusquena, and working on attaining¬†my Peruvian residency. Construction in Larapa is still underway and is making lots of progress. We are hoping to be able to move into our final apartment in a few months. I will do my best to keep y’all posted during these hectic¬†and exciting times!

Stay curious,

Ashley

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Trekking, Biking & Living the Life.

First and foremost, I apologize for the delay in updating you all! I have been busy getting used to my new life and traveling when able. SO — be prepared, this ones a doozy.

When I last posted I was getting ready to move into our¬†apartment in Cusco. Leo and I’s apartment sits right in the center of the city, proving to be more than¬†convenient. This has been our nest for the past 4 months but soon we will be moving to Larapa while we wait for our in-progress apartment to be finished with construction. Larapa is a nice quiet little neighborhood about 30 minutes from center city Cusco. I have watched each week our apartment complex being built, floor by floor. The final floor is nearing completion and I am so excited to finally live in our permanent home that I can make our¬†own.

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In August I traveled to Machu Picchu along with Leo and his group he was guiding from Chicago. We stayed a few nights in Ollantaytambo then in Aguas Calientes. While in Aguas Calientes Leo took me to climb a mountain to the East of Machu Picchu called Putucusi. Putucusi mountain is best described as a free, challenging, and relatively unknown climb full of abrupt, irregular cliffs and rugged terrain. A large portion of the mountain was only climbable by ladder due to its steepness. I pulled myself up the 2,500 meter mountain side by clinging onto shaky wooden ladders held onto the Earth by sheer rock. The ascent started as cloud forest, full of tree canopy and shade then slowly turned into very hot, dry, and open terrain. After about 1 1/2 hours we we reached the Putucusi summit, which was full of striking views of Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains. After resting and enjoying the view at the top, we began the descent which proved to be just as taxing as the way up. Although it was easier on my respiratory system, the continuous pounding downwards by ladder resulted in very wobbly legs and painful knees. The roundtrip took about 3 hours and lots of energy, but was well worth it.

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putukPutucusi-Mountain-Trek-11

putu

In September I assisted Leo on a trip to Ausanagate with a tour group from Australia. Remembering how my first experience was last year, I was nervous to embark on this adventure again. I remembered struggling physically and mentally but I hoped that this time, having previous experience would be in my benefit. I found each day to be so much more doable than my last visit. Not only was my body in better shape, but I knew the route and what to expect which made all the difference. I was able to actually enjoy the trek and I found myself feeling at home in each of the lodges among my Andean family. On the second to last day of the hike, we were ambushed with a snow storm that brought fierce winds and freezing sleet. Trekking into the strong wind with ice stabbing my face was not ideal, but made the adventure that much more exciting. Each step was more difficult as we pulled our bodies up and over the mountain passes. After 6 days we were finally back in Cusco, another group of peoples lives changed forever.

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ausang

In October I began taking Spanish lessons at a volunteer center in Cusco called Maximo Nivel. Most students at Maximo are from all over the world, visiting Cusco and helping out in one of their many different volunteer opportunities. I met a few girls my age in class who truly amazed me with their stories. I had never met people with the same passions as myself, who were¬†brave enough to finish high school and travel the world alone for a whole year. I became good friends with my Spanish teacher, Magda. She speaks very little English so it is actually beneficial,¬†forcing¬†me to understand her speaking. So — I am learning Spanish, slowly but surely.

In October we also attended the wedding anniversary ceremony of Leo’s aunt Hilda, which was an experience all in its own. Her and her husband celebrated 50 years of marriage by renewing their vows and having an incredible¬†reception. If you thought college kids partied hard, you’re in for a surprise. Peruvians are the epitome of a good time, and age is just a number. Leo’s aunts, uncles, and cousins all brought their dancing shoes, literally. Along with¬†boxes upon¬†boxes of beer and champagne, we were also served a delicious traditional Peruvian meal of pork and tamales. After eating, Leo and I were ready to call it a night around 1 a.m., while all of Leo’s family were just getting started.

Sometime in mid-October I applied to graduate school. I was somewhat skeptical because I knew that most college graduates apply to multiple graduate schools in hopes of being accepted to one…whereas I only applied to one: Arizona State University. This was one of the only schools that offered my program of interest as well as the option for¬†distance education. So after working for months on all of my admission requirements and recommendation letters, I applied for the Masters of Applied Science in Sustainable Tourism. After a couple weeks of anticipation, I was accepted.

At the beginning of November I accompanied Leo on another trip to Ausangate with a group from Germany. This time I was more than excited to experience this astonishing place with a new set of expectations and maturity. Each day the weather was beautifully perfect and I found myself wanting to learn more about the Andean culture. I used this trip to take in and learn as much as possible. I recorded each day and different parts of the trek planning to use this footage towards my applied project thesis. I am hoping this project will show evidence of this incredible example of sustainable tourism in the Peruvian Andes. As we successfully finished yet another trek of the Apu Ausangate, I found myself becoming friends with the Andean community and even exchanging language lessons with the Quechuan-speaking children.

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local

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Shortly after¬†we returned to Cusco, Leo had a trip to Machu Picchu with a group from France. We¬†quickly learned that his guest was Dj celebrity David Guetta. As always, Leo did an awesome job guiding and made good friends with David and his group, which resulted in an invitation for us to attend his Creamfields concert in Lima that weekend. We promptly purchased tickets to Lima for the next day. This also gave us a perfect opportunity to spend time¬†with Leo’s family in Lima. The concert was spectacular and our time in Lima was wonderful.

david

As most of you know, Thanksgiving is not a Peruvian holiday, and it was rather depressing not being home for it. Thanksgiving has always been a time for my family to get together and just enjoy each others company, which is something I live for. Since I was unable to take part in my traditions with my family, I shared American traditions with my Peruvian family by preparing a whole Thanksgiving dinner, for the first time ever. I¬†was extremely successful in sharing my thankfulness and appreciation to be in this beautiful country with these beautiful people, and Leo’s family made sure I knew¬†the feelings¬†were¬†mutual.

Last weekend Leo and I decided to break¬†out the mountain bikes. Since I arrived¬†to Cusco I have wanted to visit the salt mines of Maras, so instead of driving there we rode our bikes 30 miles through the mountains. Although I used to ride my mountain bike everyday as a kid, I had never actually “mountain biked” before. I learned that it is a sport that takes a lot of skill…and caution on my end. I crashed once, flew off my bike while going down a steep downhill full of large rocks, resulting in some pretty gruesome bruises and a nice gash in my knee. But what’s a bike ride without an injury right? I wear mine proudly. The salt mines were definitely¬†a sight to see, and worth the ups and downs of the ride.¬†At the end of the day I was more tired that I have ever been, and after two dinners each (we were famished) we finally passed out. After a rejuvenating¬†13 hours of sleep, we finished¬†our journey by biking back to Cusco. I am eager to keep practicing this new sport to¬†become more talented and able to take on more challenging adventures.

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mines

December snuck up on me! This is my last week in Cusco before I head home for the holidays. Next week I’ll be home with my family and friends…excited is an understatement. I cannot wait to see those I love most to remind me who I am and where¬†I come from. These reminders keep me grounded and so very appreciative. As for the future, I plan to be back in Cusco around mid-January to begin my new journey as a graduate student, living what I study. I will try my best to keep you all updated more regularly!

Stay curious,

Ashley

cusc

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Cusque√Īa

Well guys, here I am in Cusco. I can’t believe I actually made it. Finally my six years of hard work has paid off and, like a intricately designed path, led me to this incredible place. As I walk through the city streets between thousands of busy locals and tourists, I can’t help but to take it all in. It would be expected to go with the flow of this bustling town and let the excitement and chaos buzz right past you. But as for myself, I notice and absorb everything. It is such a different way of life here than I am used to. Some might take this as culture shock and want to catch the next plane home, back to safe Ohio. But I thrive on the energy and excitement of this new fantastic place. Yes, it will take some adjusting and plenty of language learning, but I am ready for the challenge.

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Plaza de Armas – Cusco, Peru

I’ve been here for a little over a week now. Excited to have went out on my own to shop, eat, and just walk the streets to gain familiarity. For my first few days I was in the company of Leo, with him helping me find my way around. He recently had to leave for a 10 day trip to the Amazon while I stayed behind to get adjusted to this new life on my own. The day Leo left I became very sick with an upper respiratory tract infection due to the weather and temperature change between Ohio and Cusco. Thankfully, I had Leo’s mother and brother to care for me and get antibiotics and proper medicine. Our apartment is located in the heart of Cusco, very convenient for someone like myself getting a grip on things. I stay connected with my friends and family through internet connection. Leaving them was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my 24 years, so thank God for Skype and FaceTime! I don’t know how I would get though all of this without their love and support. They have always been behind every decision I’ve made, no matter how crazy or impractical.

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Reunited!

As far as the lifestyle here, no I’m not living in the middle of the rainforest as some of you thought. Cusco is a civilized city with laws and regulations, though they may be more lax. There are ways of life here that are different than in the states, such as the market where fresh vegetables and raw meat are laid out on the streets to be shopped. There you can find any fresh herb, seasoning, or ingredient¬†you would ever need, straight out of the rainforest. At first glance, some might¬†view this as unsanitary and unorganized, but it works. Cusco is such a tourism driven town, that I don’t stick out like a sore thumb….at least in the center city. The weather here is generally dry and temperate with only two seasons: wet and dry. Rain and hail are somewhat common but snow is pretty much unheard of (yay!). Traffic here is ridiculous…and taxi rides, talk about an anxiety attack! But really, once you’re used to the constant horn honking and no regard to lanes, it’s not so bad.

StreetMarket

Street Market

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Street Market

We spend much of our time in a small town called Larapa, just east of Cusco. This is where Leo’s family lives, as well as where we will live once construction is complete. Larapa is a quite suburban town with much less traffic and chaos. We spent one glorious Sunday mountainside to cookout and practice huatia. What is huatia you ask? Huatia is a traditional Peruvian earth oven. Made out of chunks of dry dirt strategically held together by gravity, the oven is heated inside with fire until the surrounding dirt is hot enough to bake and the fire is removed. We baked potatoes by tossing them into the oven and then collapsing it by adding more dirt. We then allowed them¬†to bake and soak up the flavors of¬†the earth. The potatoes were then dug up, and voila! dinner was¬†served. I suspect this was just one of many Peruvian specialties I will encounter and learn to love.

Larapa

Larapa

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Huatia Oven

In regard to my next adventure, when Leo returns¬†we are planning a trip to the Amazon for just us two. It will be nice to experience the jungle once again with him, this time not as a student but as a biologist, along side my personal and professional guide. We have many plans as far as our educations and careers, including taking over the family hotel to manage it and begin a tourism business of our own. This is still in the planning stages, so no concrete information yet, but stay tuned! As for right now, I’m enjoying some time to relax with no deadlines, studying, or places to be and I cannot think of a better place to do so.

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What’s A Blog?

I have been advised to begin blogging on my current adventures and future endeavors. So here it goes…


To fill you in on my story, it goes like this: I graduated high school with no future dreams and no ideas in mind of where to go from there in regard to education. So I picked the safe route and¬†enrolled in college as a nursing major. I stayed on that track for about 3 years, started into the nursing program, got a job at a hospital….and hated it all. In 2008 I really traveled for the first time. So I found myself in Oahu, Hawaii, where I fell in love with the beach, the ocean, the wildlife — everything about it. So I traveled back to Hawaii, this time to Maui, in 2011. While in Maui, at Kaanapali Beach, I had the first of many life changing moments. I swam face to face in the open ocean with a giant Green Sea Turtle. Upon returning to the mainland, I changed my major to Biological Sciences and began on a whole new track. I knew a degree in biology wasn’t practical and I still wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do. What I¬†did know,¬†was that exotic wildlife and spending time in new places fascinated me. I needed¬†to make those experiences part of my future.

Thanks to this turtle…
Location: Kaanapali Beach, Maui Hawaii


I didn’t do much traveling from then until 2013. In fall of 2012 I had a guest professor in one of my general biology classes who informed the whole class of her Amazon Expedition field course to Peru that she teaches every year. She told us that the applications for the course would be available soon and that interviews would be conducted for admittance. Second life changing moment; I instantly knew my next goal. I was the first person to fill out that application for the field course and a few months later in October when I got the email of acceptance, I cried. It was a huge accomplishment for me, just to be accepted into something so extraordinary. From October until May I, along with 7 other students, worked hard in preparation for a two-week stay in Manu National Park. Amidst a long and intricate packing list, passport application procedures, and shots galore, I found myself coming up short for the funds to pay for the trip. I remember crying one night, so worried I would not be able to go. Solution? Sell my car. No worries, I had a back up and everything worked out.

Finally, it was May 2013 and I boarded the plane to head to South America along with seven classmates, and my two professors, Tom and Marcia. We arrived to Cusco, Peru where we met our guide, Leo. Leo was with us every day of our time in the Amazon and amazed everyone with his countless stories and knowledge of the jungle. We spent our days in the forest hiking through trails, navigating the Amazon River, and searching for exciting and exotic species. We were even successful in finding a Jaguar! THAT was a moment I will never forget, and I think it is safe to say it was probably everyone’s favorite moment of the trip. We spent a lot of time living with¬†indigenous people of the jungle and learning to understand their ways of life, which of course, was¬†fascinating.¬†So I will cut to the chase: I found myself growing more and more¬†interested in this Leo character and long story short, feelings were mutual. Crazy, I know.

Manu Lodge
Location: Manu National Park. Amazon Rainforest, Peru

Jaguar  Location: Manu National Park, Peru

Jaguar
Location: Manu National Park, Peru

Leo & I
Location: Palm Swamp Forest, Manu National Park. Peru

OHIO in the Amazon
Location: Amazon Rainforest, Peru

Sunrise on Madre de Dios Location: Amazon Rainforest, Peru

Amazon Expedition Course
Location: Casa Matsiguenka, Manu National Park. Peru

Amazon Expedition
Location: Manu National Park, Peru


So, I was back in the US attending classes, and life was back to normal. Well as normal as it could be after visiting the most amazing place in the world and meeting the most incredible person ever, then having to leave it all behind. So Leo and I knew we had to make a plan. About a month after returning home, I bought a plane ticket to go back to Cusco. So after successful completion of summer semester, I boarded another plane to South America — this time alone. That flight was the most nerve-wracking experience I have ever had. I was so nervous to fly to a¬†foreign¬†country by myself, speaking only English. But of course, Leo met me half way and made the hard parts a total breeze. I spent two weeks with him in Cusco, he as my personal guide to places like Ollantaytambo, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu. We ended our time together in the Andes mountains on a five-day hike of Ausangate. The Ausangate trek (at an altitude of around 15,000 ft.) was the first actual hike I have ever done, and when Leo found that out, he was scared (for me). Of course I had no idea what I was getting myself into but I was rearing and ready to go. I found the Ausangate hike to be the single most mentally and physically taxing thing I’ve ever done but, with Leo’s motivation and support, I completed the whole trek with flying colors.

Leonidas & I
Location: Cusco, Peru

Location: Ollantaytambo, Peru

Location: Machu Picchu, Peru

Yauricunca
Location: Ausangate, Peru

Mountain fishing
Location: Ausangate trek, Peru

Location: Ausangate trek, Peru

Andean Lodge
Location: Ausangate trek, Peru


Once again I left my second life to return home and begin another semester of classes. This would be my last year of my undergraduate degree, and I was more than ready to be done. Leo and I knew we had to make another plan, so he came to me this time. He traveled¬†to Ohio for two weeks in December and spent Christmas and New Years with me. My family and friends were of course skeptical of the whole “Leo” situation, but, after meeting him and understanding what I see in him, they loved him. We even met up with the Amazon classmates and professors for a reunion night out. But of course, after the first of the year Leo had to head back to his home in Peru.

Amazon course reunion!
Location: Dayton, Ohio

Location: Dayton, Ohio


I am now finishing up my last semester of my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences at Wright State University. The plan once I graduate, is to move to Cusco.¬†I figure once I graduate I have nothing holding me back, so why not?! Plane tickets have been purchased and I leave July 30. Leo will be in the midst of his Masters program for education, so I have come up with a new track for myself during my time abroad. While¬†shadowing¬†Leo on amazing trips guiding in the rainforest, mountains, and coasts of Peru, I will be working towards my own Masters degree in sustainable tourism. How you ask? Through online courses and distance education. The search for universities and programs has begun, as well as meeting with past and present professors in regard to recommendation letters. So far the hunt has given rise to a¬†couple of programs that really pique my interest. With my background in biology and interest in conservation, ecotourism seems to be the perfect new track for my new future endeavors. I never thought of myself being in the tourism field, but when combining adventure, travel, and environmental sustainability, saying that I am excited would be¬†an understatement. The past year has¬†led me¬†to so many incredible life changing¬†opportunities, and I am beyond grateful for all of them. I can see and feel myself changing in the most positive way possible, mentally and spiritually. I am the happiest I have ever been and I have so much to look forward to. It has been a long road to get to this point, and it’s not over, it’s just beginning.

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