Step 1: Take a photo and upload it to your flickr account.

This is a photo of a butterfly.

Step 2: Find a popular story on that features a photo similar to yours.

This is a picture of a similar butterfly.

This is a photo of a similar butterfly.

Step 3: Comment on that story and include a link to your flickr photo.

Step 4: Sit back and watch the views roll in.

We arrived in Urubamba almost a week ago and have been really busy ever since. We took a 4:30am flight out of Lima and after touching down in two other cities arrived in Cuzco at about 8am. Our gracious host Connie was waiting and whisked us away to her and her family´s campsite at the foot of one of the mountains that surrounds Urubamba. There lies the Nevo House which is a cute little cabin with a full kitchen and two bathrooms recently constructed to house us volunteers. The land is a wonderful sanctuary from the world where we can relax and study or read a book in peace after a day of volunteering.

We started on our projects almost immediately. Amanda with her reproductive health campaign and me with my dental health campaign. They keep us busy during the day while our evenings are spent taking Spanish lessons and studying. The biggest obstacle for us is learning to speak Spanish well enough to communicate with the people we are working with. There is no shortage of opportunity to practice our skills and by the time we leave we should be pretty well versed.

This past weekend we visited some of the many ancient ruins in the Urubamba Valley including Ollantaytambo and Pisac. Both of these places were amazing. It is mind boggling to think of how these ancient civilizations were able to construct such elaborate structures on the sides of the mountains. To walk in and around them fills you with awe as well as sadness that the structures and the people who built them were destroyed for greed and conquest.

The biggest market in the area is in the town of Pisac. It attracts many tourists looking to buy ¨authentic¨ alpaca and llama wool products as well as locals buying and bartering their goods. We loved the market. We spent hours walking around trying to see all that it had to offer. We ended up buying a few gifts for our family and some things for ourselves as well.

The week is flying by and we hope to have another exciting adventure to talk about this weekend.

We arrived in Lima this morning at about 6 am. It is a beautiful city. There is a perpetual mist that hangs over everything and makes it seem surreal. We were actually picked up at the airport this time and taken the scenic route along the ocean to our host family’s house in Miraflores.

Thus begins a two month adventure in Peru.

Brandon’s sister, Bethany, and her husband, Larry, just had a beautiful little baby girl. Stella. We get to go see her and the new parents next weekend — we can hardly wait. His mother is now a grandmother, his father a grandfather, he and his brother uncles and Bethany a mother. The new generation has arrived.

Baby Stella

Spring is here. It is time to wake the sleeping blogster.

Much has changed since the Bramanda Band posted last:

I am now trying to decide which of the presidential candidates I dislike LEAST rather than who I am excited about most.

B and I have experienced our first bright pink Ohioan baby shower.

We have realized that a trip to Chicago can cost more than a Florida beach vacation.

We are saying thrilling goodbyes to this little college city as we prepare to move out to the western banks of Michigan.

We have stopped talking about our time in Guatemala and are now talking about our pending summer trip to Peru.

I can finally count the days until the end of my second semester of med school on my fingers and toes.

The crocuses have started poking their little faces out of the worn winter soil.

As we shed our winter coats and our accessory blubber layers, our fingers will become more nimble and our demeanors less cranky and we will be more attentive to writing and keeping our family, friends and fans updated.

On Friday Amanda and I visited one of the largest markets in Guatemala
– San Francisco El Alto. There are many markets here but only a
handfull of really gigantic ones. One of these is Chichicastenango,
which is the more popular “tourist” market filled with “locally made”
trinkets from china and other mass produced items that most tourists
can´t get enough of (or so I hear) and another is the market of San
Francisco El Alto. San Francisco El Alto is located a few kilometers
up in the mountains from Xela. This market is most popular with the
locals because it deals in fresh produce, practical textiles, meats,
and farm animals. We decided to go because we love markets, we were
intrigued by rumors that it was the largest market in the country, and
our school had nothing for us to do that morning.

We met up with our friend Genny and headed out at around 9 am. The
first step was to find a suitable chicken bus headed in the right
direction. We found a major thorughfare and yelled out our desired
destination at each chicken bus that went by. The first few just
zoomed by but soon we found one that was headed our way. The bus ride
was familiar because we had taken the same route for The Stove Project
(see post below) so we just sat and enjoyed the beautiful view from
behind the cotton candy vendor´s wares as we ascended the mountain.
The chicken bus gradually got busier as we went along filling up with
locals either bring their goods to market or looking to buy some. Upon
arrival we had no trouble finding what we came for. The whole town was
one gigantic market with three or four rows of vendors in each street.
It was a little overwhelming and there was no logical place to start
so we just plunged in and began to absorb the sights and smells. There
were so many people that it was very difficult to maneuver the isles.
Everyone knows to be aware of pickpockets and purse snatchers in
crowded public places but we were extra cautions for a reason. Every
vendor we stopped at, whether it was to buy something or just admire,
told us to keep a tight hold on our bags and hold them in front of us
rather than on our backs. Needless to say, we obliged. At one corner
there were so many people that we literally could not move. I was
being carried away by the current in one direction while Amanda had no
choice but to sit on some poor man´s raisins.

We didn´t buy much but it was a great experience nonetheless. After
escaping the crowds we found some spectacular views of the countryside
and snapped a few photos. No sooner than we had decided to go back did
a chicken bus come roaring around the corner yelling ¨Xela! Xela!¨ We
yelled ¨Si! Si!¨ It stopped and we got on. I was very memorable for
the vast amounts of produce, beautiful textiles, and people. I don´t
think I will ever complain about the crowds at a market again after
experiencing San Francisco El Alto on a Friday afternoon.

Brandon and I had a good Christmas week, filled with lots of Spanish lessons, a little local medicine, and tons of local cuisine and markets. However, since we are finding it difficult to reign in Xela´s sporadic internet — as well as the time needed for blog updates — let us tell you about that soon, and allow us to backtrack and fill you in on the project we helped out with last Saturday: The Stove Project.

The Stove Project is one of the programs in which our Spanish school, Pop-Wuj, is involved in. The school, in cooperation with the organization Entremundos and some long-term volunteers, are building new stoves in Pacaxjoj, a Mayan community approximately 1 hour straight up from Xela. The reason for the stove project? The stoves that the families in this community (and, presumably, many other Mayan communities) use are inefficient, costly and cause a host of respiratory and eye illnesses. The current stoves are either basic campfires, with a makeshift cooking surface, or are old, inefficient stoves without chimneys. Both eat up tons of costly firewood and are set up inside small, unventilated cooking structures. Since there’s a lot of intense cooking happening every day by the women of the families in Pacaxjoj, the women and children (because the children follow the women) are exposed to several hours of thick, black cooking smoke — which they breath and blink in every day. This is what causes the health problems. The Stove Project is working on building every family in Pacaxjoj a new stove that is ventilated — no more smokey cooking buildings — and less costly to maintain due to its energy efficiency. And, last Saturday, Brandon and I had an opportunity to help build one of these new stoves and hang out with a bunch of hip Pacaxjojians in the gorgeous Guatemalan highlands.

While I would like to say that we worked our butts off, sweating and grunting with an intense work load, we actually contributed very little to the actual building project (besides the Q.100 – about $15 – that we each paid for our volunteer trip). The long-term volunteers had thoughtfully left all the easy jobs for us, such as cutting bricks with machetes and mixing cement soup, and a local guy did some serious quality control while we were working. I, admittedly, did nothing but play with a gaggle of little boys who were intrigued with the new Gringos — and who were especially enthralled with gigantic Brandon and squealed delightedly when he easily snatched an errant toy from the roof of their house. In return for helping to build the stove, we got to eat a delicious lunch prepared by the women of the households (a note of caution here — if you ever find yourself snacking on Mayan food in the Guatemalan highlands, go easy on the dark red sauce with chile seeds floating in it — yow!) and then went on a guided hike by one of the local youths who showed us some of the useful — and beautiful — flora and fauna of the surrounding forest. It was a good day. Check out our flickr photos for a picture of the finished project.

P.S. If you are interested in this project, contact Pop-Wuj or Entremundos for more iformation.

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