US Embassy - Beijing
Our first stop on our second full day in China was at the US embassy.
I’ve rarely felt as privileged as I did when I stood outside and watched 500 Chinese people waited in lines with visa applications.
Prior to arriving at the embassy, we’d been given strict guidelines to bring out passports. We’d even had to return to the hotel because one person forgot there’s.
Instead, we bypassed the extremely long lines and walked directly into the embassy through a side security entrance. Inside we were run through a metal detector, but not once were our passports checked.
I was the first student delegate inside and was able to speak to our host David, who happened to be a fellow ISU alum!
He and I chatted about ISU, DC and Iowa for several minutes until everyone else arrived. He shared that the Chinese ambassador (aka Governor Terry Branstad) loves to talk about Iowa, especially with David; and that David was headed to a lunch meeting with the ambassador right after his meeting with us!
Our second stop was lunch with the former editor-in-chief of the China Daily, Zhu Yinghuang. We would learn later that he is also the founding father of the paper’s online edition.
This was a delightful lunch, especially because Mr. Zhu was an eloquent speaker who has decades of experience with Chinese media. Listening to his perspectives helped me further grasp the Chinese understanding about the role of journalism.
After lunch, we took our shortest bus ride of the trip down the street to the China Daily offices.
Best meeting ever!
After working on a project analyzing China for a semester, I was quite familiar with China Daily’s work. Actually, going and speaking with their reporters was amazing!
Again, it was fascinating to speak with Chinese journalists who work within the state-run platform about covering potentially controversial topics.
One of my biggest takeaways from both meetings was that we cannot use Western definitions of journalism and the role of the media to understand Chinese media. The Chinese understanding of journalism’s purpose is very different than the American understanding (even in our tumultuous climate where opposite ends of the political spectrum disagree about the media).
We learned that the China Daily English addition is specifically tailored to target a foreign audience – which makes sense because the majority of Chinese people do not speak English – but this goes beyond translating Chinese articles to English. Instead, the English addition of the China Daily is written for English speakers. Additionally, we learned that the articles in the print addition differ from the online addition and in essence are different papers.
The China Daily meeting blew my mind in ways I’m still struggling to put on paper. It was an incredible experience and one that I would highly recommend if you are ever given the chance to visit their offices in Beijing.
Second Alum of the Day!
Our final stop of the day was at Caixin Media. Another media group based out of China that focuses on economic and financial news.
At Caixin I met an American University alum and learned more about how non-state funded Chinese publications function under strict regulations. It was great to see how other AU students are using their degrees.
Dinner with Mr. Wong
Upon returning to the hotel, we were treated to a lovely dinner with Alan Wong, the executive director of the China-United States Exchange Foundation (our sponsor organization). The discussion was lively and informative.
Even as I almost nodded off in my vegetarian paella, I asked him about Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty back to China and if he could compare and contrast with Taiwan. His insight was most insightful.
Side note about this dinner: I was asked about my allergies (i.e. nuts) and then given a special dessert nut free! This was awesome because at most fancy restaurants I can never eat dessert because for some reason people think nuts are fancy. [For the record, they’re not.]
But I appreciated the restaurant’s care and forethought in providing me safe and delicious food.
Next post: Climbing the Great Wall!
Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs
Our first meeting in China was with an American woman working for a Chinese non-governmental agency in the field of environmental protection – the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.
The meeting focused on the three environmental problems China is facing: air pollution, water pollution and soil pollution.
The IPE is a unique organization in it specializes in collection public domain information through environmental records in an effort to increase transparency. One of the most interesting things was learning about how the Chinese government is supportive of this type of transparency because the Chinese government is heavily committed to decreasing pollution in China.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Next on our list, we met with our host organization: the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During the meeting I specifically asked about Chinese foreign policy and the One Belt, One Road Initiative (OBOR) I had researched for my first semester as a graduate student. I enjoyed the project so it was doubly fun to continue my research in China as well as speak with members of the Chinese government about the project.
Although, perhaps my favorite part of this meeting happened as we were departing. We were pointed to a wall of books and told to help ourselves.
I picked out a large hard cover on the topic of Chinese vast collection of World Heritage sites. (Life update: my dream job is to work for UNESCO – so this 20-pound book was worth carrying around in my backpack for the rest of the trip.)
Following the meeting, we stopped for lunch at a mall. Again, Christmas explosion.
Visiting places like a mall, which was similar to one I’d find in the States, was one of the tiny pieces that aided me in creating a more holistic view of China.
Family Style Lunch
I’m not sure I have ever eaten so much food. I kept saying, “I don’t know what this is but I’m putting it in my mouth!”
Side story: I’m deathly allergic to tree nuts, so eating in China was a bit of a different experience for me. I’m usually fairly safe with vegetables and meats, but there were several dishes that our guides kept assuring me were peanuts (which I can eat) but I played it safe and avoided eating anything with nuts. This was made even more difficult as this was our first meal ‘family style’ with a lazy Susan in the middle of the table and all of the foods being passed around with their own sets of chop sticks. This type of communal meal means I had to remain ever vigilant if nuts were present to make sure the chock sticks didn’t move from dish to dish – which they did often. I use the same vigilance at buffets: if a dish with nuts is next to one without, but there is the possibility of a shared spoon, I will avoid both dishes.
My allergy didn’t cause me any hardships at this meal; I was able to find plenty to eat. But having a severe allergy influenced my trip in ways I was just beginning to understand.
Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy
Our final meeting was at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center. Probably my favorite meeting of the day.
We were able to tailor the conversation to our individual interests – which was particularly helpful for me because my interests lie beyond the traditional aspects of reporting and delve into the more creative aspects of journalism.
I also appreciated learning about China from another new perspective – American, but Americans who are living in China.
After a long care ride back to the hotel, we collapsed for a short reprieve before heading to the buffet. I ate two spoon of chicken broth (or fish soup, basically zero idea what it was).
My stomach was so upset from the long car ride through Beijing traffic.
I had forgotten how carsick I get in vans. I know this sounds kind of silly. How could I forget I get carsick? But seriously, I can be on a boat, in huge waves, reading a book with no issues. Or I can hop on eight roller coasters in a row, or even in the backseat of a car for a long road trip – all with zero issues. But put me in a van and I’ll get motion sickness at the drop of a hat.
This was the worst day of it. I took better precautions to avoid getting as sick as I did this night. But if you ever want to travel, like I do, it’s something to learn about your body before you spend hours trapped in Beijing traffic.
Silk Street Market
After ‘dinner’ my roommate, the third student from our university and I visited the concierge to pick up some really cool post cards and got directions to the Silk Market – the huge tourist trap that I couldn’t wait to visit!
Despite the name, I did not see any real silk at the market.
The three of us set out on our first adventure in China without translators or guides – after dark and in heavy levels of smog without our masks. Let me assure you, it was great fun!
The market was only a brisk, if chilly, 10-minute walk from the hotel. I was able to test my rusty bargaining skills and picked up a much needed scarf!
Prior to visiting Beijing, I’d read several other blogs about the Silk Market, but I didn’t find it as overwhelming as others had described. Although this could be because we went less than an hour before closing so there weren’t very many people around and we were mostly browsing rather than shopping.
All said and done, it was a great second day in China – learning about Chinese perspectives from both a governmental agency and from Americans who have made their living in China.
Day Three: Visiting the US embassy and meeting a fellow Iowa State alum – Go Cyclones!
The adventure begins…
My dog woke me up at 1:58 a.m., which was actually perfect because my alarm was set for 2 a.m. and waking up to his face was better than waking up to the screeching of my phone.
A quick shower and some last minute packing, and my mother and I hopped into the car and headed for the airport.
Normally the drive takes a bit over two hours, but at during the ‘witching hour’ when no one else is out and about, it took barely over two hours and that included a stop for breakfast.
I had checked my bag and was sitting at my gate before 5:30 a.m. My entirely empty gate. No one else showed up that early for a 7:30 a.m. flight.
Two hours later I was seated at the gate in Chicago waited for my next plane to board. I’d already discovered that the majority of Day One was going to be spent waiting around.
Flight: Chicago to Beijing
Fourteen hours really wasn’t that bad. I dozed for a lot of the flight, probably due to having been awake for over 24 hours by the time we landed in Beijing.
I watched a movie, read, listened to music, normal stuff I do on a flight – just an exceedingly lot more of it. No part of the flight was ‘the worst,’ which I had been expecting. I actually managed to keep myself occupied the entire time.
I will say, during the last three hours, my head and neck were a bit sore from the way I’d dozed off, but overall it wasn’t that bad of a flight. Actually, the almost four hour layover in Chicago was way worse.
Where we waited. And waited. And waited.
After 30 minutes of watching other people from our flight collect their suitcases, I was starting to get a bit nervous. Not only because I was afraid my bag wouldn’t arrive, but also because the ‘lost bag’ area had a line of 80 people waiting. Not even exaggerating, it was approximately 80 people and I was not eager to become one of them.
Eventually, miraculously, my bag appeared and we exchanged currency and headed through customs where we were selected to have our bags sent through the X-rays. But finally made it outside and to the rest of the members of the delegation outside the airport.
China World Hotel, Beijing
I wish I could relay how bad the Beijing traffic was during my first trip through the city, but I slept through the whole thing!
After about an hour of driving, we arrived at our hotel: the China World Hotel in Beijing, a Shangri-la hotel. (No, not like the cool mythical place, more like the 5-star, luxury hotel chain.)
I have literally never stayed anywhere nicer.
Side story: one of the things I did before traveling to China was consult with several friends I knew who were either A) Chinese or B) people who had lived in China for an extended period of time.
One of the friends had told me that I would experience ‘Christmas shock’ when I returned to the states because “China doesn’t really celebrate Christmas.”
Yeah, tell that to our hotel.
Food: Part One of Many (so much food)
Dinner that night was amazing; the buffet had so much good food. I tried to grab a tiny piece of a bunch of things. I wasn’t hungry after the flight, but wanted to try all the food.
My first day in China was complete. And the adventures were just beginning.
Stay tuned for my next post: Day Two in China: meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and hitting the streets of Beijing!
So, as you know from my last post, I'm going to China!
The purpose of the trip I’m going on is to expose graduate students to organizations and media outlets in China. Our itinerary isn't 100 percent complete, but I know several of the adventures I will embark upon in China’s wee capital city of 21.5 million people.
We will be meeting with foreign correspondents based in Beijing as well as local media outlets including China Daily. One of my graduate research projects this semester specifically focuses on China and I used China Daily as a resource more than once; so I am particularly excited to meet with the Editor-in-Chief.
The US embassy is also on the list, which I think is cool because Governor Branstad, excuse me, Ambassador Branstad, was governor of Iowa for basically the same number of years I've been alive.
Total side note, but we'll also visit the Great Wall while we're in Beijing. Not a big deal or anything, it's not like it's a freaking Modern Wonder of the World or anything.
[For those who are interested, this will bring my total number of visits up to four out of the seven Modern Wonders of the World, and one out of seven of the original Ancient World Wonders. Bonus points if you can correctly guess which places I’ve been!]
After Beijing we will take a Chinese bullet train to Xi'an, the cradle of Chinese civilization and an ancient capital of the empire. I'm totally not excited out of my wildest dreams to travel to this historic city. (Literally so excited).
We haven't been given any specific details on what we will be doing in this tiny city of nearly nine million people, (for the record this is more people who live in the entire state of New Jersey,) but I can tell you one thing I'm fairly certain we will be taken to see:
It's the burial site of the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang. You might not have heard of him, but you've probably heard of his army.
His freaking TERRACOTTA ARMY.
Ok, I'm done fan-girling over a dead guy and his amazing art collection. Moving on.
From Xi'an we'll fly to Shanghai. Shanghai is even larger than Beijing with a population of over 24 million people.
I've included a map of the three cities so you can see how much/little of China I'll get to see on my trip.
In Shanghai I'm most excited for the Propaganda Poster Museum. I have a particular interest in propaganda, and am eager to learn about China's perceptions about propaganda especially in visual media.
Also scheduled is a trip to the Pearl Market... which I'm sure will be awesome and heart breaking for a broke grad student on a tight budget.
Home for the Holidays
I depart Shanghai on December 22 at 5 p.m. and I'll arrive back in America at 5 p.m. on December 22...? Gotta love those international time zones. From there I'll have another flight back to Omaha where I'll land bright and early at 12:15 in the lovely hours of the morning when it will be pitch black outside and every sane person is at home, in bed, preparing for the holidays.
I'm sure I'll spend Christmas extremely jet-lagged, but I'm looking forward to it anyway!
Next Post: Understanding the Chinese Media Censorship
*Unless otherwise stated, all photos in this post were chosen specifically because they were listed as common domain
**Check back for my own photos of China after my trip!
It’s been a while since I’ve written and it’s about time I posted an update about my adventures.
I graduated from Iowa State University in May of 2017 with a bachelor of science in public relations; a bachelor of science in women’s studies; a minor in psychology; and a concentration in history.
Four years and tens of thousands of dollars later and I am the proud holder of two very fancy pieces of paper. Yay me!
Higher education has always been something I planned to pursue. Therefore, during my final year of undergrad I applied to graduate school. Singular. I found one program, fell in love, and decided that if they wouldn’t have me that maybe I needed to re-evaluate my life choices.
I was in luck – American University accepted my application six days after submission and awarded me a merit scholarship as well as a graduate assistantship.
I am now officially and American Eagle… No joke, this is literally our mascot.
So that’s where I am now. Living the highlife in Washington D.C., my favorite city in America.
Haha, just kidding (about the highlife part). Like a typical grad student I’m super broke and survive mostly on the free food provided at events around campus.
But I do love D.C. and I love where I’m currently living. I found (on Facebook of all places!) a one-bedroom apartment that came fully furnished.
Needless to say, I’m in love with my new home.
My new school has been equally impressive. I’m enrolled in three classes this semester – which is literally half as many as I took as an undergrad. Trust me though, it keeps me plenty busy!
Between learning advanced theory and brushing up on my media writing skills, I’ve had a productive semester. I’m also looking forward to next semester because I’m taking a media production course as well as a crisis communication class and another theory course.
Getting to China
So back to the title of this post… yes, I meant to bury the lead.
One of the greatest things about AU is the vast amount of resources I have access to as well as the high number of opportunities that are provided to grad students, aka me.
One such opportunity came up in the form of an email sent on Oct. 10. Included in the email with an information letter briefly discussing a ten-day trip to three cities in China scheduled for mid-December. The email asked students to reply if they were interested. Immediately, I responded and said I’d like to learn more about the trip.
It was kind of short notice, and I'd already bought my ticket home for Winter Break, but I remember thinking, “What the heck, I’ll at least apply.”
Over a week passed and I’d heard nothing. Eventually, I ran into the AU program contact and asked if she had any updates on the trip. She informed me that there wasn’t an application like I’d believed. Instead, the first three people who had responded to her email got to attend the trip and, if I hadn’t heard anything, I likely wasn’t one of the three.
Disappointed and upset, I stewed about this selection process for the next six days until I received another email. I had been asked to provide my availability for a conference call within the next couple of days. The email also included paperwork asking for my passport number, emergency contacts, etc.
Shocked, I filled out the paperwork and waited for the call before getting too excited to tell anyone – with the exception of my sister – that I might be going to China.
The call went well and the result was – I was going to China! It left me numb as first; it was so mind boggling that I almost couldn’t process the information. Naturally, the next thing I did was call my mom and announce it to her.
At one point I mentioned how I was a bit sad I wouldn’t be home over either Thanksgiving or December to help decorate for Christmas.
My mother’s exact response: “Hunter, you’re going to freaking China!”
Next post: details on what I will be up to in China!
As part of our program, we were all given tourist tickets that include entrance into several site and museums in and around Cusco. Unfortunately, the tickets only last for ten days. Therefore, we were desperate to get our monies worth and visit a few more sites that weren’t included as part of the study abroad calendar.
Usually I think that my weekends are jam packed with activities. However, that week I was kept busy with school field trips and self planned trips with my friends.
Perks of Being a Teacher's Pet
Working with our professor, we managed to squeeze two more field trips in during our 7:30 AM – 9:30 AM time slot.
The first one was Thursday morning to the archeological sight: Sexi-Woman. [Cough, Cough] Excuse me, I mean: Saqsaywaman. (It’s literally pronounced the same way though.)
The archeological site is massive and displays some of the greatest marvels of Incan architecture. Not to sound like a complete nerd, but it was super cool!
The site also has naturally occurring … Rock slides!
And yes, you can in fact slide down them. To say there were a little hard on our knees is a bit of an understatement, however, it was well worth the soreness.
Good Thing We Speak (Basic) Spanish!
Thursday afternoon and a few friends and I were looking for another adventure. We had to plan our trip during the week since we’re always away for the weekends.
We caught a cab in Cusco and asked if the driver would be willing to take us out of the city and North to the archeological site of Moray and the small city of Maras. He agree, after some slight haggled, for the price of less than $10 a person!
Wonders of the Incan World
We zipped along the curvy, winding roads of the Urubamba Valley and took photos of the Andes out of the windows. It was a blast!
Over and hour and a half later and we arrived at the first stop: Moray. The ancient site was used for agriculture.
The Incas dung deep terraces in a unique circular shape. The depths and way the terraces were carved into the mountain create several distinct microclimates. Archeologists have theorized that Moray was used for agricultural experimentation with crop growth at different temperatures. Yeah, the Incans were that smart.
Asthma and Altitude
Moray was spectacular. Truly breathtaking, quite literally as we ran to the bottom of the site and took dozens of photos before dashing back to the top. My chest hasn’t hurt that much since I was a child. My asthma is well control … But not so much at 11,000 feet above sea level where every breath is already as struggle without adding in tall stairs and a time crunch.
Fortunately, I brought multiple inhalers with me to Peru and always make sure to have one (or three) on my person. Still, it reminded me that I always have to keep in mind my limits and be sure not to cross them because I could find myself a hundred miles from the nearest hospital.
Salt, Not Snow
Next, our personal driver took us to the small city of Maras were we visited the salt ponds. It was amazing! The salt ponds went on for miles connected by very narrow pathways. I’m talking centimeters wide.
The ponds are harvested by locals and some of the salt is sold on site for incredibly cheap. Naturally, I bought a couple (four) bags of different kinds of salt. I can’t wait to go home and cook with them!
Tourism a Better Way
As we drove the long way home, we were treated to the beautiful site of Cusco after dark, when, especially high above the city, the lights fill the valley and resemble multi-colored stars.
Our afternoon adventure cost less than $20 for the entire trip including souvenirs. It would have been at least twice that if we had gone to Maras and Moray with a tour group. We also would have had to deal with a bunch of tourists at both sites because the tours would have been earlier in the day. Instead, we conducted our own private tours right before closing and were treated to almost empty sites rich with history, local culture and overall tranquility in which to enjoy the gorgeous views.
No Rest for the Restless
Friday morning my class met again for another field trip, this time to the Regional History Museum. The hardest part about this trip was catching the taxi from our neighborhood to the plaza during the morning rush. Not only did it take twenty minutes to hail a cab and forever to actually arrive at the museum, the drive charged us double. Granted, double was just over three bucks… But it’s the principal of the matter!
Next: My weekend in Puno exploring Lake Titicaca!
School is Fun
I’m taking two classes in Cusco. My first class begins bright and early at 7:30 AM! Yay!! … Not. But whatever, it’s the class I was most looking forward to so I deal. Luckily, my professor for History of Incan Civilization (yeah, still a nerd,) is enthusiastic about the subject. He makes an already fun course even better by creating interactive, artistic activities and, my favorite part, field trips!
Our first field trip was last Sunday. We departed Cusco early in the morning for another adventure. My Incan history class, along with the professor’s other class, started our morning driving down dirt roads around invisible corners overlooking deep ravines.
The ride was worth every cringe worthy turn when we finally reach our first destination: the Incan Trail.
Why Did the Sheep Cross the Road?
Our job was to walk the Incan trail and pick up garbage. Fortunately, the trail was incredibly clean! I was only able to personally find two pieces of trash. Not counting any pieces of paper because you definitely don’t want to go anywhere near those… Our professor has been working for years with his students to create signs in English and Spanish that say “No Littering” and such.
On our hike, not very far from the main road, we came across a herd of sheep! The sheep and lambs quickly parted like the wool sea. Well, the adult sheep did. Several of the babies ran back and forth a few times bleating frantically as they tried to locate which side their mothers ended up on.
We continued down the path to a place where gringos to not often frequent. However, that is likely going to change soon as zip lines and rock climbing are being set up at the site to bring wealth into the local community.
Climbing up and down the wide stone steps we stumbled (and by stumbled I mean the professor gleefully pointed out) a burial site. An exposed burial site.
Our final stop for the afternoon was a rural village. My favorite part was stepping inside a cuy farm. Granted, all of the little guys will likely end becoming food, but they’re super cute in the mean time!
The way of life is very different in the village than how we’ve been living in Cusco, which is drastically different than our lives in America.
The woman whose home we visited told us about her son, who is ten: he has to walk over an hour to school and an hour home every single day because the village only has a primary school. The woman reminded our professor that her son had asked for a bicycle.
Later, our professor explained that he’s going to set up a collection box in our school in order to buy the boy a bike. Our hope is to raise enough money that when our professor takes his fall class to the village he can give the boy a bike as a Christmas present.
I hadn’t thought much about my lasting impact here in Peru, but while visiting the village and even spending time with my host siblings, I’m beginning to realize that my time here in Peru has meaning beyond progressing my Spanish speaking abilities and climbing Machupichu.
Walking through the dense forestry, my thoughts drifted to my childhood spent wandering around the jungle exhibit at the Henry Dorley Zoo. The real thing puts one of the top exhibits at the best zoo in the world to shame.
Not that I don’t still love the Henry Dorley Zoo, because I do and always will. #NebraskanForLife
It just made me stop and think how far I’ve come, literally and figuratively, from being a small town girl to an experienced young woman who has seen parts of the world that were once mere dreams.
It makes me stop and think about how proud of me my family is and how proud of me my family who watches over me would be too.
Saturday morning was our first group trip. We visited several archeological sites, learned a lot from locals and have an all around wonderful day!
Our first stop was an alpaca and llama farm were I made many new friends, mostly by feeding them.
At the farm we learned about the history of my furry llama friends. They came from North America and made strange, new furry babies with the locals (alpacas). We did get to see some of the wild vicuña, however, they’re kept far away from the tourists because they’re apparently mean!
The first archeological site we visited was: Písac. It was a bit (lot) of a hike because of the altitude. If there were more oxygen in the air, it would have been quite present. With the lack of air it made every step a bit more of a challenge, but totally worth it to walk in the footsteps of the Incas. Also, the views were spectacular.
Next, we stopped at a wonderful restaurant buffet and chowed down on Peruvian cuisine. I even got to try alpaca! It’s a very tender meat and super yummy.
The restaurant complex also have a llama and alpaca farm that also included several other species that we’d learned about that morning. I also got to stand face to face with a vicuña!
Five second after my friend took this photo he tried to spit at us. I was so proud.
After lunch we toured Ollantaytambo where the Incan Temple of the Sun sits high atop a mountain. We climbed said mountain. Fortunately, our guide has years of experience and stopped every three terraces for us to catch our breath.
Again, the view from the top was worth every sore muscle and both puffs from my rescue inhaler.
We drove for a long time after leaving Ollantaytambo. But it wasn’t a boring drive. Rather, the winding roads revealed spectacular views of the Andes Mountains. As we drove higher we could see miles and miles of the snow-topped peaks.
Chinchero was our final destination for the evening. There we entered one of the oldest churches in Latin America as dusk.
I put the knowledge I gained from my ISU Colonization of Latin America history class to good use within the church as I explained that while the Spaniards forced the indigenous to convert to Catholicism, many retained certain beliefs that combined with Catholicism to form religion in Latin America. This is literally illustrated on the walls of the church when images of vines and flowers are painted near pictures of baby Jesus.
Pictures may or may not have been allow within the church but I also may or may not have been able to resist just one.
Afterward we were able to explore the grounds in the twilight.
Our final activity before returning to Cusco was to sit in on an alpaca weaving demonstration. Several women showed us how they clean the alpaca wool, spin it while multitasking, dye it with natural products, and finally how they weave it into spectacular patterns. Incredibly, the main presenter worked the entire time with a fussy baby strapped to her back as her five year old ran around being helpful. We learned that five is the age when the women first learn how to spin the wool. It was clear that if she grows up to be anything like her mother, the five year old will have quite a bright future ahead of her.
The stunning demonstration was a fantastic way to end a truly spectacular day.
Next Post: My adventure hiking the Incan Trail!
Things I Have Learned So Far
Cusco is at a very high level of elevation. Approximately 11,152 feet above sea level. That being said, if the lack of oxygen in the air doesn’t get you, the changes in food and water likely will.
Have no fear! Traveling makes you, and your stomach, stronger.
Getting to Cusco
After returning from Europe on June 10th, I barely had time to unpack before repacking to move to Iowa. Once there, I continued to live out of my suitcase and boxes stacked in the garage.
I left home again on Thursday, June 30th so I could spend the night at my great aunt’s house because it is two hours closer to the airport. The next morning I had my cousin drive me to the Omaha airport at 7 AM. (I paid him in pizza.)
Then, a day less than three weeks after I landed in America, and 24 hours of travel later, I landed in Cusco, Peru.
Unlike my semester in Greece, in Cusco I’m living with a local family made up of a mother and father and two of the most adorable children I’ve ever met.
The little girl is four and as cute as a button. She loves princesses and stickers, which was what I brought her as a present, coloring and playing games. Needless to say, we’re getting along swimmingly. She is also the biggest help with my Spanish language skills. She is a preschooler, and my Spanish abilities are about that of a preschooler despite Dulingo and two semesters of college Spanish, meaning that she's the perfect teacher.
The other child, a boy who is one year and three months old, has stolen my heart. I meant it. I’m completely taken with this little guy. He’s got big rosy cheeks and flirts with me over his supper as he purposefully spills it all over his highchair tray. My first night, I went to bed fairly early and he kept banging on my door trying to get to me.
The little boy waves at me every time he or I leave the apartment, even if we’re actually going someplace together! The girl, on the other hand, always helps me pick out a sticker to wear before I’m allowed out the door. I already am sad about having to leave them in a matter of weeks.
But yeah, so like, the city and school are okay too… I guess ;)
Living the Dream, Again
In all honestly though, I’m so happy to be in Cusco. This city is amazing! The colors, the sights and people come together to create a wonderful place to spend the remainder of my final summer before my senior year of college.
So yeah, any of you that might have been wondering why my social media has been so quiet recently, there’s your answer.
Until next post, ciao!
Coming up next: I’ll fill you in on my course schedule and the trips planned for my summer in Peru.
I went to Egypt with the expectation of never being able to return.
Arriving in Luxor
Luxor was the single most incredible place I’ve ever been.
Normally, when I travel I dread the question: “Where was your favorite place.”
Well, after going to Egypt, Luxor in particular, I can now answer that question without hesitation. The combination of the Temple of Luxor and Karnack Temple nearly brought tears to my eyes as I walked among ruins that I’ve spent two decades watching documentaries and reading books about.
We arrived in Luxor very early in the morning. For some reason, I had made the incorrect assumption that we would be able to visit our hotel before we visited the temples of the East Bank. However, considering the temperature later in the day and the fact that you can’t even check into a hotel until 11 AM at the earliest, we did not go to the hotel first.
This means that I arrived in Luxor in my glasses, without sunscreen and generally ill prepared for the day. However, because I packed so well, I was able to slap some sunscreen on and put my contacts in before we ventured to Karnack Temple.
Side note for travelers: I highly recommend always carrying soap sheets (not just hand sanitizer) and tissues. This goes for travel in general, but especially in Egypt I was thankful to always have both items because the bathrooms often did not.
Living the Dream, Literally
Karnack was glorious. I can’t even begin to describe to you the feelings I had while being surrounded by the columns topped with open and closed papyrus flowers representing the cities and villages of Egypt at the time.
This temple is also the sight of one of my favorite movies: Murder on the Nile, by Agatha Christie, (an author I hero worship).
Many parts of the sight are closed restoration. However, the ‘guards,’ local men, will gladly open doors and show you secret pathways just prior to asking you for a tip. I have a hard time deciding between this being a sad thing and it being kind of awesome. Maybe a bit of both?
Walking away from Karnack was difficult. I felt as if I was leaving a piece of my heart behind. But I would soon be leaving another piece of it behind as we visited Luxor Temple.
Discovering Ancient Egypt
At Luxor Temple we learned a great deal about Ramses II. As we learned, and could clearly see within the temple, Ramses really liked commissioning statues of himself. Connected to a lot of the statues were smaller statues of his beloved wife, Nefertari.
We also discovered something incredible deeper into the ruins: the cartouche of Alexander the Great!
Living in Macedonia, I’ve learned so much more about Alexander III than I would have living in any other part of Greece. I’ve visited his birthplace, the tomb of his father and son, and while in Egypt I discovered a temple he built for the Egyptian gods in an effort to respect their heritage and culture. This discovery was completely unexpected and one of the coolest parts of the trip, especially after spending the last four months surrounded by the legacy of Alexander.
Our afternoon was spent poolside in the hotel. I had almost as much fun snapchatting my friends, both in Greece and in America, pictures of the pool as I did swimming in the pool.
Valley of the Kings
Luxor day two was my favorite day of the entire trip. Our guide took us to the Valley of the Kings and I nearly wasn’t able to bring myself to leave.
We visited three tombs while in the Valley of the Kings. Each was incredible in different ways and by the third I had absorbed enough knowledge that I was excited to notice that it was unfinished. The deepest room did not contain carvings, only paintings. Again, I’m a giant nerd so this was exciting to have noticed on my own and have confirmed by our guide.
You might notice that this section of my post will be decidedly lacking in photos. That is because you’re not allowed to take pictures within the valley. The above picture was taken at Karnak Temple in a room that is currently under renovation and not open to the public... Hence the locals demanding tips. But imagine even more incredible wall carvings and brilliantly preserved colors and that was the inside of the tombs.
While driving into the valley, a long and winding road, I began asking questions.
I first asked if there are other limestone valleys in Egypt such as the one we were driving into. The answer was yes, which lead me to question two: Why this valley? Why, out of all of the valleys in Egypt, did the ancient Egyptian kings choose this one?
Our guide smiled and told me that he’d explain once we were in the valley. Sure enough, twenty minutes later, under the scorching sun (I’ve actually never been as hot as I was in that valley) he explained why the tombs of the most powerful men in Egypt were placed just outside of Luxor.
Ancient Egyptian history is made up of three parts: Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom. The pyramids are an example of Old Kingdom tombs. Giant, grandiose structures built to protect the valuables of the pharaohs from grave robbers. Well, it didn’t work very well. So by the New Kingdom, the pharaohs were looking for a new way to protect their possessions and bodies in preparation for the afterlife.
This lead to the first pharaoh buried in the Valley of the Kings all the way to Luxor where he presumable was wandering around through valley after valley until he looked up and was like, “A-ha!” (Totally a true story).
Fast forward thousands of years and our guide told me to look up. Above us, high up in the valley, is a limestone formation of a pyramid.
The Valley of the Kings is located where it because the pharaohs of the New Kingdom wanted to better protect their tombs, but they also wanted a pyramid to mark the spot because, lets face it, pyramids are cool!
In all of my studies, avid book reading and consumption of an unhealthy amount of documentaries about Egypt, I’d never heard about the Pyramid of the Valley of the Kings. It was incredible to learn about it while standing at the base mere feet away from the entrance of a tomb.
Lights, Camera, Action!
The next place we visited did allow pictures, and I took a bunch of them.
In my Luxor photos I’m often wearing my headscarf, this had nothing to do with religion or culture and everything to do with the fact that the desert is freaking hot!
One of the figures we learned a lot about during our trip was Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh. She was totally bad ass! After her husband’s death, she built bigger monuments, created better trade routes and built awesome temples including one of the few temples on the West Bank of the Nile.
Ancient Egyptians believed that the East Bank was for life, temples and palaces, and the West Bank was for death, tombs. However, Hatshepsut’s Temple was a mortuary temple and therefore revolved around death hence the placement on the West Bank
Warning: Major Nerdiness Ahead
Hatshepsut was the most incredible woman of Ancient Egypt. When she came to power after her husband's death, she had difficulties with the people because she was a woman. To combat this ancient sexism, she ordered all statues of her to be carved in male figure. However, if you look closely at all of her statues, her face is still remarkable feminine.
Sneaky artists, sneaky.
Hatshepsut was responsible for creating a trade route to what is modern day Somalia. She traded cows for everything from gold to henna trees. The story of her success is still carved into the walls of her temple.
However, tragically, few images of her remain at her temple. Once her stepson was old enough, he overthrew her, put her to death and tried to wipe her from the record of Ancient Egypt by having her images, temples and monuments destroyed. Fortunately, he wasn’t entirely successful.
While at Luxor, our guide showed us his pride and joy: the perfume room. It was nearly perfectly preserved; the ceiling still almost entirely covered with the blue and yellow stared image of the night sky. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
Our guide informed us that much of his research consisted of sitting in that room from dawn until dusk translating the hieroglyphics written on the walls. He told us that much of the writing was recipes for perfumes!
The Ancient Egyptians used oils and essences for more than smelling good. They also used aromatherapy to cure everything from headaches to stomach pains. It’s incredible to think about how advance civilization was in Ancient Egypt that they were able to use the plant life to create these remedies that still plague us today.
Traveling to Egypt was a well thought out, well-planned adventure of a lifetime. I’d worked with a travel agent to make sure that traveling companion and I would be as safe as possible. This included airport transfers, four and five star hotels with bomb sniffing dogs, and guides who rarely left our sides. I thought I’d thought of everything. But nothing could have prepared me for the reality of Egypt.
Egypt was nothing like I’d ever experienced before. I’d stepped from my comfortable little world and into an entirely unfamiliar environment. It was as wonderful as it was shocking.
Unlike some other top tourist destinations I’ve been too, cough Cancun cough, it’s impossible to hide the reality of daily Egyptian life from the tourists. The streets aren’t shinny and the views aren’t all the glossy images from post cards and National Geographic documentaries. The photos I posted on my social media pages and even so far in this blog post fail to illustrate the shear amount of poverty in Egypt, and I’m confident I didn’t see the worst of it. Run down buildings, broken roads, garbage on the streets and in the canals and layers of dust and grime covering everything.
There is also vibrancy and passion and a strong sense of community. Egypt is not a destination I would recommend to first time travelers, nor it is a placed I would recommend you go on a whim. Do your research; reach out to people who have been before.
All this being said, I loved Egypt and had a wonderful trip. However, I believe it is important to remain transparent about what I saw while I was in Egypt so as not to appear hypocritical when I post images of fancy hotel pools and selfies with the pyramids.
Take Away Message
The reality is Egypt’s number one cash crop is tourism. Ever since the revolution, there has been a decrease in tourism to Egypt, particularly from America. My mother was especially not enthused when she learned that I had bought my plane tickets and was flying to Cairo.
I never do anything half heartedly or without careful preparation and research. Traveling the world is possible with enough forethought and planning and I’d be happy to help launch someone else’s dream of visiting Egypt.
Be on the look out for my next post about my two week backpacking adventure across the UK and Italy!
My name is Hunter and this the blog of my worldwide adventures. The purpose of this blog is to show that you can be a traveler, not just a tourist.