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I intend this blog to be a safe and inspiring space for me to share and express myself intentionally and without the noise and not-so-fun side of social media. I also intend it to be a living, breathing, ongoing conversation. I welcome your thoughts, questions, and even your disagreements…let’s connect, share ideas, explore the world, and this thing called life together!

Qoyllurit’i: My Magical Journey to the Lord of the Snow


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Preface

Two years ago, when I was living in Cusco from end of May to end of August, I was lucky enough to experience the full force of Cusco’s most festive months. June and July are filled with celebrations of Andean and Spanish origin; most of which are a unique and fascinating hybrid of both. I was in the throes of Corpus Cristi festivities when a local musician friend told me he was heading to Qoyllurit’i that next morning, and asked if I wanted to join him. I had never heard of it, and as he began to tell me more about this spiritual pilgrimage, I grew more and more curious. However, I soon learned about the extreme altitude and freezing cold temperatures involved, and decided it was probably not the safest thing to do given my lack of preparation and equipment. So, I left with the lingering desire to take part in this unique experience, and have been curious about it ever since…

Fast forward 2 years. I began feeling the calling back to Peru in a big way a few months ago as a new project with Beyond Volunteering, and also a critical time with Casa De Milagros began to unfold. My friend and partner with the Beyond Volunteering project, Carsten Korch, sent out an article and announcement about Qoyllurit’i. In it, he shared that 22 years ago he met his wife there, and that it is a sacred and special experience. He was organizing a group trek for this year’s event through his travel agency, Peru Experience. Something told me to open that email, and to watch the video. As I did, I knew that I just had to go. The timing was almost perfect in every way, so I called Carsten, and soon I was officially on board…

The Story of Qoyllurit’i

Each year the people of the district of Ocongate (Quispicanchis) perform a ritual that is based on Catholic religion, but whose roots lie in the ancient Incan principal of bringing man closer to nature. The ritual, associated with the fertility of the land and the worship of Apus, the spirits of the mountains, forms part of the greatest festival of native Indian nations in the hemisphere: Qoyllur Rit’i. In Quechuan, Qoyllorit’i means “Snow Star” or “Shining Snow”. The pilgrimage is one of the most important religious festivities of Andean Peruvians, and millions of devotees participate in the event from various areas of the country. This is situated of the beginning of the mountain Sinakara in the village of Mawayani, at 4700 meters above sea level. Every year, days before the celebration of Corpus Christi, every small village or clan send a delegation with colorful dancers and “pauluchas” to the Capilla (Chapel) del Señor Qoylloriti.

The main ceremony is held at the foot of Mount Ausangate, at 4,700 meters, where temperatures often plunge below freezing. The ritual brings thousands of pilgrims, including shepherds, traders and the merely curious who gather at the shrine at Sinakara. Popular belief has it that the infant Christ, dressed as a shepherd, appeared to a young highland Indian boy, Marianito Mayta, and they quickly became friends. When Mayta’s parents found them dressed in rich tunics, they informed the local parish priest, Pedro de Landa, who attempted in vain to capture the infant Christ who had disappeared and left behind only a stone. Marianito died immediately, and the image of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i appeared on the stone.

Today, the festival starts off with the day of the Holy Trinity, when more than 50,000 pilgrims climb to the snowline, accompanied by all sorts of dancers in full costume (chauchos, qollas, pabluchas or ukukus) portraying various mythical characters. The Ukukus, or bears, are the guardians of the Lord and the Apu mountain spirits and apachetas, stone cairns built along the way by pilgrims to atone for their sins. The ukukus maintain order during religious ceremonies. “Los Pabluchas” represented alpacas and are intermediaries between the Sir Qoyllorit’i and his men. They climb at 4 o’clock in the morning to the iced mountain of Sinikara while asking for more animals and general prosperity. During the party the people who participated in the procession praise our Lady of Fatima to have good luck in business, life and their future. A group of hefty Queros, members of what is probably Peru’s purest Quechua community, dress up as pabluchas and set out for the mountaintop, at 6,362 meters in search of the Snow Star which is reputedly buried within the mountain. On their way back down to their communities, they haul massive blocks of ice on their backs for the symbolic irrigation of their lands with holy water from the Ausangate.

The end of the procession takes place at the ancient Inca capital of Cusco the celebrations of Corpus Christi; when all of the city’s streets and plazas fill with vibrant processions and music.

Our Trip

Having grown up mostly in California, I fully admit to being very inexperienced with extreme weather. However, nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of the cold and altitude at Qoyllurit’i. The weeks leading up to my trip had been extremely full and a bit stressful – what with packing up my life to move to Peru, wrapping up client projects, managing Casa De Milagros and Beyond Volunteering, spending time with family, and then of course the week of travel to Lima, and Cusco. The day before the trip, I was feeling a bit ungrounded to say the least. I had this deep feeling, though, that part of the grounding and healing process would come with this trip.

I met our group for the first time at our pre-trek briefing meeting on Sunday afternoon. I felt relieved to see Carsten, meet the great people I would be sharing this experience with, and that our guide seemed very relaxed and knowledgeable. Since there really is no way to prepare for the altitude other than spend a few days acclimatizing (as I had), my only main concern at that point was the cold. I had purchased the most expensive sleeping bag I could afford before leaving the states – a Marmot synthetic bag that is suitable for up to 4 degrees celsius. When he told me it would get to minus zero, I opted to rent an extra bag from him at $6 per night (The best $12 I ever spent!) I also decided to get some stronger sunblock (SPF 60), a warm pair of wool gloves, and a “chullo” (Andean wool cap) to cover my ears.

The morning of the trek, I was incredibly anxious. The internet had been abysmal the night before, and I didn’t have time to take care of the last minute emails and random odds and ends I had to do before I left. A panic attack set in as I got in the van and realized I would have zero contact with the outside world for the next three days. The downfall of my line of work, is that it can feel essential to be “connected” at all times. The first hour of the trip was spent making lists in my head of all of the things I hadn’t done, and what could possibly go wrong. From deep inside, this voice came through telling me to “let it go”…I knew that this was part of the experience in and of itself, and that I needed to have faith, surrender, and be as present as possible. So I began the challenging process of “unplugging” and “letting go”…

I soon began to focus on the amazing beauty of the Andean scenery as we got further outside of Cusco. When we left, the city was buzzing with Pre-Corpus Cristi festivities, and it was a maze of people and cars all trying to make their way around this ancient city that was never built to sustain even a fraction of what it has to today. It felt wonderful to get out into the open air – and explore a part of Cusco I had not yet traveled to. About 45 minutes outside of the city, we passed a town that is famous for it’s bread – Oropesa. Our guide, Erick, got out and got us a big wheel of the famous Pan de Oropesa and we all enjoyed this fresh treat. A little later on, we passed several places I have heard of and wish to return to, such as Andahuaylillas. Soon we arrived at a Mirador (Vista Point) that had an amazing view of our destination: Mt. Ausangate.

We drove a total of 3 hours to a little village called Mawayani, the base of Qoyllurit’i at 4,100 meters above sea level. Here we were to have lunch, pack up our horses, and head off on the trekking portion of the trip. Mawayani was bustling with activity; people coming and going from the magical Qoyllurit’i. There are many who had gone up the day before or earlier that morning, paid their respects, and were now heading back. However, we were planning to be there for the main event which was that night and the following day.

While the guides packed up our stuff and prepared lunch, the group walked around the town, checked out the sights, and bought any last minute supplies. I bought a small flashlight for about 10 soles/$3.50 and took some great pictures of some gorgeous little girls and local merchants.

At the advice of our guide, I also picked up some candies, since sugar is good for boosting energy in high altitude. Another option is to do as the locals do, and buy huge chunks of sugar cane to gnaw on…you could buy a yard long piece for about 3 soles / $1.00, and I was in awe at the amount of it all around us. We then headed back and had a delicious lunch of Fajitas and pineapple “refresco” (a light juice). By the way, the food that was provided and prepared by our guides on this trip was absolutely phenomenal – muchas gracias chicos!

Once we were nourished and fully packed up, we headed up the hill and began our pilgrimage…

The first hill is probably the most difficult. It’s steep, narrow, and there are tons of people, horses, llamas, and donkeys fighting for the path. There’s also the realization once you make it huffing and puffing up to the top, that the journey has only begun. I think all of us were feeling a general anxiety around the unknown, and thinking, “what have I gotten myself into??”

The hike from Mawayani to Qoyllurit’i is about 8.5 kilometers/5.25 miles and took us about 4 hours. Of course, there’s the added element of the altitude, which goes from 4,100 meters at Mawayani to 4,700 meters at the top of Qoyllurit’i. Along the path, there are a series of “estaciones” or crosses; 13 in total. They became the only thing that kept me going…my competitive nature set in and I just focused on checking each one off one by one…

When we finally made it to the top – fear, cold and fatigue gave way to awe and wonderment. I was completely enthralled by the intensity of people and celebrations, and of the organized chaos that is Qoyllurit’i. I couldn’t help thinking this is what the a wild west town must have been like – a temporary city full of horses, dust, and hastily assembled stalls selling everything a pilgrim might want for the journey up the holy mountain. There were tents and booths selling everything from offerings for the mountain gods, hot chocolate and teas, and every kind of food imaginable. There was even a psychic monkey and his two friend parrots who picked your fortune out of a box…it was intoxicating! We followed our guide, Erick, who somehow amazingly led 14 of us to our 8 tents amidst thousands.

When we arrived to our camp, we got paired up and assigned to our tents, and our guides treated us to a snack of coca tea/”mate”, coffee, hot chocolate and crackers. While we attempted to rest and warm up, he briefed us on the plan for the rest of the evening, our camp rules, and where to find our “potty tent”. As the sun dropped, we began to feel what real cold at high altitude feels like. I had on 5 top layers, 2 bottom, 2 socks, gloves, and 2 caps…but the cold comes up from the mountain below and through your feet, and there is almost no way to avoid keeping your toes from freezing. Amidst all of that, many of us decided to venture out into the masses to experience the festivities.

We wound our way through the crowds and up to a small temple where we were greeted by some friendly “pabluchas”. Amidst the dancing, drumming, whistle blowing and fireworks, I began to forget about the cold and my aching muscles, and joined the party. We approached a group of very merry dancers, and both Ximena and I were the first to get dragged in to join the celebrations. My partner was very excited, and I was able to follow his lead pretty successfully. Within seconds I went from freezing to sweating, and my heart began to beat out of my chest. Altitude is no joke.

After about an hour, we left the celebrations and made our way back to the tents, for what was to be the most restless night of my life…

I spent the first part of the night experiencing intense shivering attacks in the tent for what felt like forever, but was probably about an hour and a half. I couldn’t believe how cold it was, despite having TWO good quality sleeping bags, and being bundled in layers of clothes. The air is thin enough to make me hyperventilate while trying to keep warm in the sleeping bag. I vacillate between covering myself up completely, and then gasping for air at the hole in my bag. Every movement took my breath away. I begin to remember all of the people I had seen on our journey through the camp who were sleeping with nothing on them but plastic sheets or ponchos. I saw women, men and children huddled behind our tent with no shoes on, lying on the ground completely without protection. What are these people made of? Their fortitude both amazes and humbles me. Our group are 14 of a very small number of non-Quechua speaking participants in this ancient festival of the snow and the star, and now I know why.

Somehow, amidst the shivering and racing thoughts, I fell asleep…a restless night to say the least, but when I awoke, the exhaustion fell away, and the energy and magic of what was waiting outside of my tent took hold…

Our guide prepared us for the day and let us know that each of us would be allowed to have our own time, to experience Qoyllurit’i in whatever way we wished. We had each been called to this mountain for unique and special reasons, and so we should take the opportunity to fulfill our purpose. Along our journey up the mountain, I had taken time to say a little prayer and set an intention at each of the crosses. On this day, I decided to let go of self-imposed intentions and let myself be guided. We made our way to the temple, and realized that they were opening it up for the first mass of the day.

We somehow wiggled our way into the massive crowd fighting for a spot, and next thing I knew I was in a mob of people all grabbing and fighting to be as close to the altar as possible, so that they and their wishes could be “blessed”. Although I was raised Catholic, I don’t consider myself a religious person. However, I couldn’t help but be carried away into the emotion of the moment. I too wanted desperately to be blessed! I started feeling the crowd grow denser and the shoving get more intense, so for a moment I panicked realizing one misstep could mean major problems. But before I could finish that thought, I looked up to realize I had been placed just a few yards from the priest, and in that moment he looked right at me and literally showered me in holy water. As I wiped my face, the crowd guided me out to the left side door, and next thing I knew I was outside of the church, in a bit of shock. I said a few prayers outside the church, and couldn’t help but smile, thinking of how truly blessed I was…and realizing I always have been…

We continued to follow the processions and check out the many wonders all around us. Soon I found myself at the top of the mountain where people were buying and “selling” land, houses and businesses. I glanced over and saw a mass of people gathered around what appeared to be a priest, and realized this was what Carsten and Virginia had told me about – that there would be the opportunity to ask the gods for marriage – for yourself or for someone else. The ritual involved having a “priest” marry you, or the person for whom the wish was intended. I suddenly knew that I had to do this.

For a bit of context: I am a 32 year old, happy, successful, single woman, and have until recently not really even known if marriage was for me. In this past year, however, I began to realize that something inside of me did want to get married…and this felt like the perfect place to make that proclamation out loud. So I asked what I needed to do, and was instructed to purchase my wedding bands, marriage certificate, and set off to find my husband. I ran into Carsten and his wife Virginia, who upon learning that I planned to get married, became very excited, and offered themselves up as godparents. We soon came across a young man named Pico, who had traveled all the way from the neighboring state of Apurimac to take part in this ritual, in the hopes of summoning land, a wife, and prosperity. He was very humble, very sweet, and very excited to get married, so off to the altar we went!

There were many people waiting to get married, so this was no easy task. Being taller than almost everyone there helped, and soon enough, Pico and I were called next. The ceremony was lovely, and hilarious. The priest was a character to say the least, and everyone in attendance had a great time…

Before I knew it, the priest was declaring us husband and wife, the ceremony was over, and I was officially wed. The ritual was not over however, as I was told I now needed to get my certificate notarized, so I did. Pico then informed me that the wedding party had to do a formal cheers/ “brindis” to the happy occasion. He passed around water for us all, and covered the two of us in confetti and ribbon. After a few happy photos and lots of hugs, we bid farewell to Pico, and continued on our path…a short but sweet reception and honeymoon. :-)

The whole experience got me thinking about the concept of “desires”. These people all around me knew exactly what would make them happy: a house, a business, a family. Yet I realized with a bit of sadness that I honestly didn’t have a clear picture of what my heart truly desired…of course I wanted all of those things, but I suddenly realized that a clear vision had thus far eluded me. Perhaps I had been caught up like so many of us as we “grow up” and are forced to give up our fantastical dreams for the practically attainable?? So I thought hard about what it was that would make me truly happy, and what my dream life looked like…

I suddenly got a very clear vision of a spanish-style hacienda, overlooking a gorgeous valley, with a beautiful home surrounding a brightly lit courtyard, horses and animals, and enough space to host a big, loving family and many friends. I turned around and saw a beautiful young girl selling property titles, so I bought my land, and began building my dream hacienda. When I was done, she gave me some confetti and firecrackers, and we inaugurated my dream home.

As we descended the mountain back to our camp, I was on a total high. I couldn’t believe the amount of energy I had felt and that I suddenly realized was welling up inside of me. I had just experienced something truly special, shared amongst the tens of thousands of faithful pilgrims that had also come to set their intentions for a happy and prosperous life on the Mountain of Ausangate. It is said that the power of Qoyllurit’i doesn’t come from the mountain or the gods, but from the power of combined human energy and intention. Regardless of what that power is, or where it comes from, I know that I felt it in that moment. As I stood there overlooking the processions, I suddenly welled up with tears. It was a combination of the intensity of the energy, the passion, faith, and devotion that I had witnessed, and the depth of history and culture…in that moment it all just kind of took my breath away…

When we got back to camp, we were welcomed by some indigenous women who had set up shop in the middle of our camp. They were dressed in their brightest and finest, and were selling some of the most gorgeous tapestries and weavings I had ever seen. One of them came up to me and asked me if I wanted some old coins. When I took a look at what she was holding, I realized they were real silver coins from 1782 and 1789 during the time of Spanish colonialism. I was very tempted to buy them, but at 300 soles each (around $85), I was going to have to pass…

That night was a lot more calm than the first, as many began their descent down the mountain that day. The cold however, remained intense, if not more so, and so we all huddled together in our dining tent reflecting upon our magical day. The processions also remained; a steady, rhythmic and constant backdrop of the entire experience. That night the stars were spectacular. Erick joined Gemma and I out under the dark sky to try to make out some constellations. It felt like they were all there, where they had always been, and where they belonged: amidst the magic and purity of these places most of us no longer go…We waited, patiently, for the moon to rise, and when it did, it was the most glorious thing I had ever seen. I went to bed completely inspired and at peace. The second night was still freezing, but once I was able to fall asleep, I slept through most of the night, and awoke rested and happy.

The next morning we woke up bright and early to pack up our camp and head down the mountain. After a light breakfast, we headed out, and bid farewell to this magical mountain. The trek down flew by and we made it back to Mawayani in an hour and 45 minutes.

We all chose to skip lunch in lieu of getting back to Cusco and resting, so we packed up the vans and headed back to the city. The drive was peaceful and quiet; most of us exhausted, and reflecting upon all that we had just experienced. As we approached Cusco, we could feel the energy and hear the familiar rhythm of the processions in celebration of Corpus Christi. The music, the dancing and the energy had followed us from the mountain into the center of Cusco, and we were again in the midst of one of Peru’s most intriguing cultural and religious traditions.

That night, we decided to have a farewell dinner at a great restaurant called Incanto, right off of the Plaza De Armas. It was amazing to see everyone clean and warm!

It was a lovely end to an amazing adventure – each of us feeling a special bond from having participated in something that not many people will ever have the chance to know. We were each coming back from the lord of the snow infinitely grateful, and forever changed…a few of us even married…

:-)

I put together a quick, silly little “preview” of the adventure, and a video of some of the footage I took:

Qoyllurit’i 2012 – Trailer from Claudia Miro on Vimeo.

Thank you so much to Carsten Korch and Morten Bruun of Peru Experience for putting together such an amazing journey; our guides Erick Farfan, Jose Abel Pancorbo and their fabulous crew; and of course all of my fellow pilgrims: Virginia Korch, Elisa Guzman, Ximena Guzman-Velasco, Gemma Chipulina Yoshida, Ana Perla, Marco Elias, Kim Allen Jones, Luis Eduard Romero, Tania Meave, Javier de Sousa Ferreira, Carla Gambirazio, Aurelio Gambirazio & Gladys Alvarado. Lo hicimos! ;-)

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Spring Updates & New Beginnings

Last November, I went back to Peru for my grandmother’s 80th birthday. It was my first time back in over a year, and it was a full two weeks of mostly family, but also a short but sweet visit back to Casa and the kids.

As usual, leaving Peru was very hard, but that time it felt even harder. I really felt like I was leaving behind where I was supposed to be…when I got back I had a very clear message that I needed to go back – not just to visit, but to begin building a life there. Ever since I can remember, I have dreamed of having a life in both worlds; a lifestyle that allowed me to divide my time between Peru and the states. My trip to Peru 3 years ago planted a very big seed, and I came back from that trip being very clear about the 3 things I needed in order to make my dream happen: acquire my citizenship, finish my college degree, and build a virtual business that I could run from anywhere in the world…Check, check, and pretty much check ;-)

Obviously it is not easy to think about leaving my life here in the states…I have a beautiful life, wonderful friends and family, and lots of things I would be leaving behind.

Was I being irresponsible?

Was I just trying to see the grass as greener?

Was I making a mistake? 

I talked about it with many of my closest friends and family, and in the process, came to realize that my calling to Peru is indeed a very grounded one. While there are always risks involved with any big change or move – there are undeniable opportunities for me in Peru, on every level. I started seeing how much has been lining up for me there over the past few years. I then decided that I would make it happen within the year, and not stress about when and how, but just to set the intention and let it go…

The past few months have been an amazing time of self reflection and inspiration. Beautiful people and resources have shown up for me in big and small ways…the signs are everywhere :-)  I began working with a dear friend and colleague, Anne Martin, who is a Marcia Weider certified Dream Coach, “Reinvention Specialist”, and was finishing her certification in a performance coaching program. She offered me 3 months of complimentary coaching, which I enthusiastically accepted. What an amazing gift! Anne was such a wonderful mentor and guide through a process of rediscovering my dreams, and the vision that I have for my life. She walked me through a process of revisiting what I had dreamed of as a little girl, all of the little blocks and negative experiences along my journey that had made my vision a bit blurry over the years, and to tune into what I was feeling NOW. She helped me to create a vision for the life I wanted to manifest as of today, one that incorporates all of the pieces of me and who I want to become. I created an essence statement: “I AM EMPOWERMENT”.  That one little exercise shifted how I began to see myself in my life and business, and how I wanted to show up from here on out. I saw how that related to all of the roles in my life that were the most meaningful to me – coaching little girls in basketball, working with the kids at Casa De Milagros, and teaching my clients how to be more successful. I love helping people see their true potential!!!

This time has also been incredibly fruitful professionally, as the process of creativity and reinvention began to show up in my business as well. My other friend and colleague, Tammi Spruill of Fruition Branding has been an invaluable source of inspiration and support as I set out to redefine my business from the inside out, and bring more of “me” into it. She holds such a wonderful, safe space for creativity and helping you develop the foundations of your business from a creative perspective. The work I did with Tammi helped me figure out how I wanted my business to look and feel to people, and what I wanted it to represent. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Tammi. ;-)

Little by little I felt myself moving closer and closer to Peru…I knew it was about to happen, but until now, I also knew I couldn’t make any firm decisions quite yet. I just kept meditating, journaling, talking to friends & family, focusing on being present, surrendering, trusting, and allowing the universe to guide me where I was supposed to be…

About a month ago, mi amigo Carsten officially offered me the role of Executive Director of Beyond Volunteering, and I accepted!  In a nutshell, Beyond Volunteering helps source volunteers from all over the world, place them where they will be most suited to their interests and skills, do all of the coordination in Peru, and takes care of them when they arrive so that they have a safe, rewarding and mutually fulfilling experience. My job is to help raise awareness of BV, grow their online presence to reach more people, and generally make the whole project more successful by helping both the non profits in Peru find more quality volunteers, and by assuring that the volunteers going to Peru have more positive, meaningful experiences. I couldn’t ask for a more rewarding project, and I am thrilled to be on board. :-)

Pretty much that same week, I started getting back in touch with the directors of Casa De Milagros. Without going into too many details, the situation over the past month has become very dire as the Casa has lost not only their interim directors and leadership team, but also their primary source of funding. They have approximately 3 months worth of funds left and no certainty as to what will happen after that. I have been asked to come down and do what I can to help rebuild Casa, raise funds, develop a work/volunteer program, and create a sustainable organization once and for all. I have my work cut out for me…but I am ready…;-)

This was the final “sign” that I need to be in Peru right now…I am following my heart, and trying to stay as grounded as possible while being open to the path that is unfolding. This is a major practice in TRUST! ;-) I am allowing for the evolution of my life and business, and even though it might feel like a bit of a shift in priorities, I realize that this is exactly what I have envisioned my entire life! I always pictured myself doing meaningful work in Peru, and empowering those in need. I feel so blessed to have that opportunity present itself now…and I say YES!

For now, I will continue to work with a few of my existing clients so that I can supplement my time there and support myself, without placing a burden on the Casa. However, I know that the task at hand is going to require a lot of my time and energy and realistically may not leave me enough time to take on much client work over the next few months.

So I have put together a fundraising effort to help with my travel and living expenses, and also to purchase some much needed technology equipment for Casa. If you feel compelled to help by donating or helping spread the word – please CLICK HERE.

Also – once again I am looking for a home for my beautiful, adorable, and extremely loveable baby Bonita…so if you know any loving cat people who could use a fluffy pillow for a few months, let me know! ;-)

Love and blessings to you my friends and family – I love you all and can’t wait to share my experiences and developments with Casa & Beyond Volunteering with you very soon…stay tuned! xoxo


Honeymoon Cafe…My New Favorite Place

Driving home from Santa Ynez, I decided to stop “rushing” back and instead pull over and try to find a cute coffee shop or somewhere I could take my 11 AM call, have some coffee, and get some work done…Say what you will about Yelp, but it can be very useful at times, especially when you know what to search for. I typed in “best coffee shop pismo beach” and the 1st listing took me to rave reviews for a place called Honeymoon Cafe. The reviews were dead on, and I have discovered my new favorite place. Now if I could only get them to clone themselves in San Mateo…;-)


Spring Cleaning & Spring Blooming

Bonita helping Mommy clear out 3 full Banker's Boxes!

This Sunday I decided to roll up my sleeves and attack my storage unit.  It was one of those looming projects that I just hadn’t had the time, energy, nor the desire to take on for months.  By months I mean almost one year. I had boxes in there that I hadn’t opened since being tucked away almost exactly one year ago when I sub-leased my apartment and left for three months to live in Peru.

One whole year.

The project took on a “full circle” feel in more than one way.  Not only did I go through stuff that had been tucked away over the past year – I went through boxes of documents and random stuff from when I first came to the Bay Area as an innocent, naive 18 year old; my time at Menlo College; and the many chapters ever since…

It was surreal to think of all of the years that have passed – how some moments feel like a faint memory, and some feel like they were just yesterday. Memories came flooding back, and I was in awe at how much can fit into 13 years.  It can be a bit jarring, and definitely stirred up some emotions.  Mostly it made me just take a moment to take stock, and to appreciate the journey I have been on; one that has in many ways come full circle this past year.

Almost thirteen years ago I came to the Bay Area with no money, no support, and no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I was going to see the world outside of my small town, and get a college degree. I had no idea my academic journey would (like most journeys in life) not be a linear one.

Worth the Wait...

A year and a half ago, after several detours, I returned to San Francisco State University; resolute in my purpose and determined to finish what I started. I thought I was in it for a piece of paper – but had no idea it would come to mean so much more. I could go on and on about how much more meaningful the learning was this time around, and how pleasantly surprised I was to meet such wonderful friends along the way…even if most of them were too young to remember M.C. Hammer ;-p  The point is, I did it. I finally did it, and you know what? It feels even better than it would have when I was 22. I will be walking in my graduation ceremony on May 21, 2011; and that feels just perfect…

I remember struggling with the choice to come back and finish my last semester, or stay at Casa de Milagrosto help out during the difficult months of organizational transition.  A huge part of me wanted to stay, as there was a huge need for my support, and love. I figured, “I’ve waited this long, what’s one more semester??”  But in my heart, I knew that I needed to come back and finish. I could not let another 6 months, year, or decade go by, as I have learned how easily that can happen in life…It was a very difficult choice, and I struggled with a lot of guilt and sadness.  But I did return, and threw myself into school taking 5 classes this past Fall. I don’t know how, but I made it through; with straight A’s no less…

One year.

A year of challenges, hard work, uncertainty, inspiration, soul searching, value defining, and faith walking…Today I feel energized by yesterday’s “purge” – I feel lighter, and more open to the possibilities and new beginnings; of the season, and of my life…

One year ago I bought an orchid. I got her at the Farmer’s Market – I found the perfect one with gorgeous, white, blooming flowers! And then, as orchids do, she sloughed away her beautiful flowers, and she was left to nothing more than stems.  I have never maintained an orchid, and have a notorious “black thumb” when it comes to plants.  Part of me wanted to throw her away and just buy a new one next year; I thought it was such waste of time for something so ugly, taking up space, and besides, I didn’t even know if the investment of energy would pay off. What if she didn’t bloom? What if it was all for nothing??  I was sure that my attempts at keeping her alive were futile, but I kept watering her anyway – once a week, every week (well, most weeks…) And I waited.

Last week she sprouted buds. At first, I didn’t realize that’s what they were – not only because I was convinced I was incapable of keeping a precious orchid alive, but also because I couldn’t believe it had been one year.

A Beautiful Bloom!

This weekend she bloomed ;-) Two beautiful, white, perfect flowers; to be followed by at least ten others by the look of it…Orchids have always been my favorite flower, because they are so precious, so rare, and so worth the wait… ;-)

So much can happen in one year, and all of it is part of the beautiful journey that is our lifetime.

There will be “good” years, and there will seem to be “bad” ones…but it’s all important, and it’s all necessary.  The challenges, the uncertainty, the walks of faith, and the times of heads-down hard work – it’s all “worth it!”

At the end of every Winter comes Spring; and with every Spring comes the bloom…May your Spring be beautiful and full of new life, new energy, and a fruitful “bloom”.

Lots and lots of light and love,

~Claudia


Back in Gringo-land…

I miss Peru. And today it hit me like a ton of bricks how much I miss the kids and the entire family at Casa…;-(

While my time in Peru was not without challenging moments – at the end of the day, it was one of the most special experiences of my life. The kids of Casa de Milagros are incredible…I feel blessed to be considered part of the family, and to have been received with so much love.

In addition to working at the Casa, I was also able to spend some time in my country, and soak in my culture in ways I had never been able to before…spent some quality time with family and loved ones in Lima, traveled to regions of Peru I had not been to before, and experience two of Cusco’s most amazing festivals: Corpus Christi and Inti Raymi. 

In addition to settling back into life back in the states, since being back – I have mostly been consumed with school. I was able to enroll in all five classes that I need and will finally be graduating in December! It’s been a 12 year journey – so graduation day will be super sweet ;-) What this means in a practical sense for me is that with five classes I will have a very full plate and have already begun the process of “clearing the decks” so I can focus on school and get the most out of my final semester. As you all know – I like to juggle many projects and interests – so this is no easy task ;-) I am super excited about my classes! My Political Communication professor, Joe Tuman is running for mayor of Oakland, so our class gets to live an actual campaign with him. Also, I am taking a California Food, Wine, and Culture class, which totally sucks since you guys know how much I hate food, wine and culture…;-)

One of the major decisions I have made recently is to step down from my responsibilities as a Board member of Casa de Milagros. I will continue to be involved in the kids’ lives, and will be returning in December and January to visit, volunteer, and help with some big projects that are in the works. However, due to my school and client responsibilities, I do not have the space to commit to the Board at this time. Once I graduate in December, the Board and I will reassess where things are on both ends and how I can continue to stay involved, what role I will play, and what projects I will be involved in. I will keep you guys posted! In the meantime, if you guys want information on how you can help Casa or any other volunteer opportunities in Peru – contact me and I will send you information.

By the way, the pic above was taken my last night in Cusco – Aiden and I went into a cute little jazz bar on the corner of Choquechaca and Cuesta San Blas and got to meet and listen to the phenomenal sounds of Amber Field and her array of instruments from all over the world. Only in Cusco can you have a didgeridoo in your ear and it’s not weird at all…

I’ve posted the rest of my pics and you can see them all HERE…enjoy! xo


Last Night at Casa

Me and Beautiful Ada

Must…be…strong…must…not…cry…

Argh!!! I don’t want to leave!!! ;-(  I know I have to – and I am actually looking forward to being home for many reasons…but the reality of leaving here and not seeing the people here whom I have grown to love so much is going to be really hard.

There were moments when I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it all three months – mostly when my immune system tanked, and I was freezing the night away in a Cusco hostel…or when my wallet was stolen, or when my vest was stolen…

But enough about all that – I am going to focus on the positive – and share about my beautiful last day at Casa!

The last day was quite busy as I was running around getting three months worth of projects, conversations, and to-do’s wrapped up.  I was so busy in fact that I didn’t notice the party being orchestrated in the midsts…Apparently the kids wanted to do something special for my last night, so they put together an incredible Fiesta!  Soraida, Melina, Maria Flor and Senobia choreographed and performed two dance routines, and then sang me a love song ;-) It was precious.  Then Jorge, Leo performed some SkyWalker moves with Marcito as a guest star who rocked the house!!

My Gang

I was blown away by how much effort they had put into the making my last night special, and at their love for me.  And their TALENT, which just never ceases to inspire me! Papa Wesly and Mama Paty got up and said some words, and at that point I was just speechless…which didn’t help when they made me get up and say some words…I don’t really remember what came out of my mouth – I think I just repeated I love you a bunch of times…

Waiting for the bus

Despite my inability to articulate, we had an incredible party complete with music, popcorn, cake, many laughs, and even more PICTURES!  I didn’t want the night to end…

In the morning, I woke up early so I could see the kids off to school.  I stood there as they piled into the Combi van, and gave them all hugs and kisses and told them I would be back soon.  I started crying, but thankfully they were driving off at that point.

I know guys, I hate when they leave too...

 

Then I turned around to face the Casa, and got this awesome shot of Charlie and Rover:

Bye for now Casa de Milagros – I will be back very soon…

xoxoxo


Cienciano Soccer and Inspire To Do

I was privileged to have the opportunity to partner with Wendy Lee and Miles Ito of Inspire To Do in organizing an awesome event for the Casa kids. Wendy contacted the Board months ago with a desire to design a program/event that would inspire the Casa kids, help them connect with the community, and also incorporate her skills and experience working with special needs children. The initial idea was to hold a soccer clinic at the Casa that we could invite other children from the community to, but the logistics involved proved challenging during our timeframe. What we ended up putting together was still an incredible experience that I know the children enjoyed tremendously, and won’t soon forget.

Wendy was incredible, and somehow made a connection with FPF (the Peruvian National Soccer Federation) who connected us with their PR Director, Enrique Mayor. When we shared with him what we were trying to do, he graciously invited us to attend one of Cienciano’s (Cusco’s National Soccer Team) practice sessions in person, and to attend their game the next day.

Wendy and Miles spent their first few days at Casa getting to know the kids, doing motivational games and exercises, taking pictures and videos. They brought a colleague with them, Leonordo Carrizo, who is a Photojournalist and professor at Ohio State University. Leonardo took some stunning pictures and was able to help us capture all of the special moments from their trip. Wendy and Mils also presented the kids with some amazing donations. They were able to contact Kodak, who donated 5 brand new Digital Cameras, and Miles was able to round up an IBM ThinkPad Laptop! The kids (and I) were beyond excited!!

On the big day, we took a big bus from Casa into Cusco to attend the practice. Once there, the kids were able to meet and greet the players, interview them, hear their motivational stories of overcoming personal challenges, and take pictures and videos with them (with their brand new cameras!) The players and coaches were incredibly gracious, inspiring, and made a huge impact on the kids. After speaking to the players afterward, it seems our kids were able to do the same for them ;-) It was an unforgettable day…we even made one of the local papers!

Unfortunately Cienciano’s game was postponed on Sunday, so the kids were not able to see them play. ;-(

However, the team managers were so gracious and invited us to come back any time we want!

Instead, we took the kids out on an educational tour of Cusco and some of its ruins. We had a blast, and the kids were beyond thrilled…

I am incredibly grateful to Wendy, Miles, and the entire Inspire To Do crew for all of their love and energy put into this experience. I look forward to partnering with them again soon!

Click Here to see the Pics


5 Reasons I Love Cusco

1. The Energy!

Whether you are in the city, or in the Sacred Valley – the energy of this land is palpable.  It is called the Sacred Valley for a reason.  There is something about being high above in the Andes, 13,000 feet above sea level, nestled amidst these huge, magical mountains…it’s a power… and a closeness to God that I’ve never felt before. Or maybe it’s just the oxygen deprivation…;-/

One of the Breathtaking views of the Valley

 

2. The Beauty

Everywhere I look it is a Kodak moment (hence the 500 photos I have taken on this trip thus far).  The drive between Cusco and the Casa through the Sacred Valley can start to wear on one’s body after awhile – particularly when you do it too many times in a week.  But when I start to feel worn down – I remind myself where I am, and take a moment to stop along the roadway to soak in the glorious scenery…and I suddenly feel so much better ;-)

Just strolling along…

3. Seeing Cows, Donkeys, Sheep, Goats, Llamas & Alpacas every single day

Not just in a field, or on a mountainside – oh no – they are everywhere!  On the street, in the roadway, on the sidewalk walking in downtown Cusco.  The other day I woke up at Casa, opened the door to head to the bathroom, and there were two fat, happy donkeys grazing right outside my door…just chillin.  I love it!

4. Meeting People from All Around the World

Cusco draws some of the most fascinating, diverse people from almost every corner of the world.  I have met so many fabulous friends, and met people doing magnificent things out here.  Most are only here for a brief time, but some just never want to leave – I love to hear their stories…I have been here during one of the most “touristy” times of the year – June and July, which definitely has its drawbacks if you are actually living here and trying to get stuff done.  But I have also been lucky enough to be here during a WORLD CUP – which has just been electric.  Every game is televised at the plethora of bars and pubs in town, and draws at least a few fans from each of the competing teams.  The last week was insane – so many Dutch fans in bright orange T-shirts, and rowdy Spaniards in their blue, yellow and red.  Cusco definitely has a global appeal…

Scoring some medicinal herbs @ Mercado San Pedro

5. Mercado San Pedro

If there was one thing I wish I could stuff in my suitcase and bring back with me to the States it would be Mercado San Pedro.  Obviously this cannot be done, but one can dream…You see, Mercado San Pedro is much more than a locals market – it contains anything you could possibly need to survive, and at ridiculously cheap prices. There are different sections for fresh juice, cooked food, produce, dry goods, meats, artisan goods, and any service you can imagine. The other day I got my backpack stitched up there for the equivalent of $1. Granted, there are certain corners of the market that one with a weak stomach just should not go…but thankfully I am not one of those people, and I get a kick out of just how many parts of a cow can and are used in some parts of the world…The tradition of a trip to San Pedro is of course, JUGO (juice). There are several rows of juice ladies, all smiling down at you from their elevated platforms, flirting and grinning sweetly in an attempt to seduce you to their booth. Each one has their own special blend of fresh fruits, vegetables, sacred herbs, and magic ingredients.  My favorite gal was #56: Rina. Rina was the cutest little woman ever, and she always made way too much juice for any one person to consume in one sitting, so I would usually share one with a friend – usually Aiden or Lulue.  Oh how I will miss “popping in for a jugo at Sen Pedro”…

I could go on and on…and on and on…and I could share a few things I’m not so crazy about too – but I’ll save that for another post ;-)  In the meantime, Check out the rest of my Pics of Cusco from this trip!
xo
From Paddy’s Pub – the “Highest Irish Pub in the World”,

~Claudia


Claudia Miró

A journey of blogging, traveling, and creative living.

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