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Crossing the river before summiting 17,500 Pico Austria. Photo by Ella Williams (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest, 2nd Place), South America Semester.

Thank You Group C!

Every morning, our group begins the day with a morning check-in. As a part of this, we all answer a question presented to the group by our student Guia. On the morning of April 11, we all gathered in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas. In this former center of the Incan Empire, the wonderful Group C members surprised me by sharing their favorite things about me as our morning check-in question. This was just one of many sweet things that the group did to make my 19th birthday one to remember.

The day continued with an informative walking tour of Cusco. We then split up for a free afternoon of exploring the city. A smaller group of us headed out to a delicious lunch and afterwards Sage treated me to a birthday brownie. (Thanks again, Sage!) We then enjoyed having time to meander the streets, popping our heads into local art galleries with nowhere in particular that we needed to be.

In the late afternoon, Sage and I headed to the bus terminal to find the group a ride from Cusco to Ocongate, the town where we began our trek through Nacion Q’eros. This task proved to be easier said than done. We wandered down the aisle of bus companies, asking for a bus to Ocongate, but we could not find one! Our hopes were low and we worried that we had let the group down. As we stood in the middle of the bus terminal unsure of what to do, a man named Yeison appeared with all the answers to our problems. He offered us a private bus that would pick us up the next morning at our hostel and take us directly to Ocongate. Relieved, Sage and I jumped at the offer. The only issue was cost. Yeison gave us a number that seemed too expensive for our group budget. With the limited Spanish between the two of us, Sage and I negotiated it down 2 soles per person. At the time, it felt like a win. We did it! Looking back, however, I can see that we did not take the time to explore other private buses in order to get the lowest price…

After our lesson in negotiating bus prices, we all met up as a group and headed to the Cusco Planetarium where we learned about Incan and modern day constellations. I will always remember looking up through a high power telescope to see the craters on the surface of the moon for the first time! It was a beautiful night of learning and star gazing.

Tired and chilled, we had a quick dinner and then headed back to the hostel. Everyone dispersed to get ready for bed and I headed to the common room to journal a bit before bed. Just as I began to recount the day with my pen, the wonderful Group C surprised me yet again! The walked in with an apple tart in hand, singing happy birthday. They set the apple tart in front of me and I blew out the three candles. Smiling, I look up to see Dave and Zak stringing up a Frozen themed piñata. I am then blindfolded and handed a stick. They cannot be serious, I think. Oh, but they are.

I get spun in a circle and proceed to hit my birthday piñata until the candy hits the ground. I pull off my blindfold to see everyone standing around laughing and only Paola is on the floor lunging for all the chocolate. As I stood there smiling, all I could think is that a year ago, I never would have imagined my 19th birthday to end like this and I could not have imagine a better way or better people to have spent it with.