I'll try to pick up where we last left off...
Last Wednesday was our last day in Aurora. We visited Amanda's grandmother one more time in the hospital and said our goodbyes. It was another incredibly emotional experience followed by yet one more when Crystal left Manny and Brenda's house after dinner. I won't go into unnecessary detail here.
So we finished our last loads of laundry, packed up all our stuff, got into bed by around midnight and woke up at four so we could make it to O'Hare with enough time to make sure we got through security. Manny and Brenda both drove us to the airport. It was nice to feel so well loved, and security ended up being a breeze.
While waiting for the flight, we managed to meet up with two other PC volunteers and when we got to D.C. we split the cost for one big van as opposed to cabs (for which the estimates we individually received ranged from $20 to $70) and ended up only spending $11 a piece. Not too bad at all. We stashed all of our stuff in a conference room and grabbed some food from a nice little restaurant a few blocks from the hotel.
Staging was a equal blend of corny ice-breakers and tedious paperwork, but it wasn't too bad. I think we were all just so excited for this adventure to start that even the ordinarily mundane became a fun step. Then again, this is only in hindsight. At the time, I was low on sleep, lower on coffee, and in somewhat of a haze. Staging lasted around 8 hours, and we grabbed some food from the hotel restaurant before repacking for the retreat we would be taking once we arrived in Peru the next day. Limited luggage for unknown climates and they wanted us to devote one bag to a trip within a trip. We managed.
We woke up bright and early to leave the hotel by six. Ask me why and I could not tell you; our flight left at 11. Granted a group of 57 volunteers with special circumstances could potentially take a long time, but we were at our gate around 2 hours early. On the other hand, I think it was the time waiting in anticipation at the airports in D.C. and Miami that really started to solidify the group. We'd all put in a lot of time for this, and we were all about to reap the rewards of our hard work.
Well, a couple flights, an hour of customs, and an hour and a half bus ride later, we were finally at our destination: an aptly named Catholic retreat center called Villa La Paz. As tired as I was, I managed to stay awake for the whole bus ride. It was, after all, my first chance to see Peru. Here are a quick few things I noticed in my past-exhausted state: There was a greater prevalence of "greeon" signs (as opposed to neon - but I don't know which gas they use to make the green ones), lots of what appeared to be houses built on top of houses, strange three-wheeled vehicles that seemed to be all over the place - probably taxis, the bottom five feet of all the trees were painted white, and several random mesas that rose hundreds of feet above the rest of Lima. When we got to the retreat center, we waited for the owner to arrive, and they let us into the dining area where they had some basic sandwiches ready for us. One more welcome later, we trudged into our rooms, and after our taxing 21 hours of travel, we crashed only to get up the next morning for a 7:30 breakfast that really started at eight.
The rest of the day (which somehow was today, though it seems like we've been here for ages) was filled with lots of paperwork and sessions with various people for everything from "survival Spanish" to getting our picture taken so our host families will be able to recognize us. One of the most encouraging parts of the day was the meeting with both the coordinator for our training and the second-in-command for Peace Corps Peru (Kathleen and Wendy respectively). Never would you in the states be working with an agency of any kind (let alone one of the government) and get a face-to-face conversation with the top names on the first day on the job. In fact, later, after throwing a disc, playing some basketball, volleyball, and soccer, the hacky sack came out and Wendy was sitting just a few feet away, occasionally dodging the flying bag of plastic bits.
The day finally came to a close with dinner and people just having fun together. There were at least ten people dancing (or learning to dance), a handful playing cards, countless little groups of people just chatting, and I even managed to convince several to learn to play liar's dice. One more side note, there are two other groups at the retreat center currently, and a few of us played basketball with some of the Peruvian guys around our age, and one of the Peace Corps coordinators told me all the younger kids were talking about the guy that looks like Jesus walking around - did not take long at all. I'm anticipating maybe going by Les (the end of my name, because Charles isn't all that easy to pronounce) as opposed to Carlos (which was my initial thought), but somehow I think a lot of people will just end up calling me Jesus. It could be worse.
Tomorrow will be another big day. We'll get up, eat breakfast, ship off to the training center at which we'll be spending the bulk of our time over the next 10 weeks, and then get picked up by our host families in the afternoon. I can't wait for that part. We don't know too much about our host family yet. All I've heard is that they have big hearts, might have dogs, and there are two young children (around 3 and 5). Now I just need to find some old man to teach me charango.
We'll post pictures as soon as we have the time and a reasonably fast internet connection, and Amanda may or may not post something soon. She said she had something to add when I started writing this, but it got kind of out of hand. So much for being brief.