Sara in Peru

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Home! August 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraberney @ 1:44 am

I’m home. Home, US, home. And I’m happy. There I said it, I’m happy. No miserable transition, no crying in the supermarket, no pulling the hairs out of my head after watching left overs be thrown out. None, zip, zero, ziltch.

Instead I feel present, I feel gratitude. Gratitude to be surrounded by my family, to laugh with my mom in the car and to sleep in my old bed, gratitude for walks where the sun pours down my back and sweat drips down my face, for parks and the towering trees that come in all shades of green, gratitude to begin the process of sharing this experience with people here, to begin the process out loud.

I thank Cusco, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile for the ease I feel right now. I eased into the transition that is the end of Peace Corps, slowly, traveling, volunteering, training, and exploring what this transition meant for me with patience and breath.

I could not have dreamed up a better way to spend my last month in Peru. I spent it among the mountains of Cusco, the mountain bursting with spiritual energy and love. I lived in the Healing House, a community of people living in Cusco for extended-stays that inspired me to be myself and do what I love. We woke each day with the sunrise to group meditation fire ceremonies, spent hours in yoga and yoga-philosophy classes, and in the evening curled up with large cups of tea and lots of blankets.

The teacher training pushed me, challenged me to dive deeper into my practice, to bring breathing techniques, energy channels and centers, and muscles into my practice and style of teaching. I taught to a full studio my last evening in Cusco and felt proud to share this gift that felt so empowering.

I left Cusco feeling fulfilled, blessed and excited to see two of my best Peace Corps friends who met me in Lima and helped with my Peruvian send-off.

And now I find myself tucked in bed in Rockville, MD, wishing I had some Peruvian bananas (which are so much better than what we have here) and wishing I could take another steaming hot bubble bath (I’ve taken a few too many baths these last few days!)

I’m thinking about the closure that is beginning to come to this experience and the compassion I feel for all of you who read, listened, and supported me along the way.  Thank you for the occasional notes, phone calls, and much-needed care-packages, for the emails that lifted my spirits on the really bad days and the good days too. And my deepest thanks to my family and Brendt, for being patient and understanding, it was the best gift you could have possibly given me.



Machu Picchu August 6, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraberney @ 1:43 pm

Machu Picchu in an hour, can it be done? Yes.

So most people spend a lot of time planning out there trip to Machu Picchu, reading the entire chapter on Machu Picchu several times over, making sure they choose the best mode of transport, tour company, hotel etc. They talk to other tourists, get second opinions and then make the reservations and are off.

Natalie, a friend from the yoga teacher training, and I did it a little differently…In part because we are down to our last bucks and partly because we did not have much time to play around with in the final days of the training.

A few days ago during our lunch break as we wandered around Cusco and tried to come up with a Machu Picchu plan, we passed a sign: Machu Picchu for $100. Sold. It was easy, the tour company would organize it all for us, and all we had to do was hand over 100 bucks and show up at their door Saturday afternoon.

The plan: 9pm train from Ollantaytambo, a town an hour and a half away from Cusco. The train would take us to Aguas Calientes where we would spend the night and wake up at 4 a.m. to make the pilgrimage up to Machu Picchu (a 2 ½ hour walk up stairs), where we would arrive early enough to watch the sunrise over the ruins. We would spend the morning at Machu Picchu and then walk 3 hours to a small town where we would take public transport back to Cusco. Sounds easy, right?

This plan gives you quite a bit more time in Machu Picchu then the one hour option that I am getting to. So why would you do Machu Picchu in an hour? Would I recommend it? No. Really NO, but it’s possible and here is exactly how it is done.

First, miss your train to Aguas Calientes.

We didn’t do it on purpose, I swear. Our train to Aguas Calientes left at 9 p.m. Ricardo, our lovely tour organizer was unable to buy the 9 p.m. train tickets and instead bought 7 p.m. tickets with no way of being able to tell us that we needed to arrive much earlier at the tour office in order to make it to the train station with time to spare. So we waltzed into the office in yogi land and within seconds found ourselves zooming in a car to the train station…1 hour until the train leaves, 2 hour drive to the station…can we make it?

No. Natalie and I ran down to the platform and where we found two guards chuckling at the two poor Americans who managed to miss their $50 train (which left a good 15 minutes ago).

Second, Peru Rail internet system crash.

Peru Rail is the train company that runs from Ollantaytambo (where we were stuck) and Machu Picchu. We head to the station the next morning with several hours to spare, smiling to each other, “We are finally going to get on this train.” Ricardo had given us the numbers for our new train tickets, our only task was to print the tickets, which we were told could be done easily at the train station.

But not when the train’s internet page is down.

After being tossed from one Peru Rail employee to the next we made it on the train without printed tickets. Maybe our luck was turning around.

Third, Calculate hiking time incorrectly.

Not our fault. We had many different estimates: “It takes two hours to walk down from Machu Picchu to the twon where the car will pick you up to take you to Cusco.”, “It will take you 1 hour at most.” “It will take at least 3 hours.”

Naturally we were confused. But after checking with the information desk it was confirmed, we had 1 hour in Machu Picchu if we wanted to make the bus home.

So we looked at each other, laughed, and started running. We raced through the ruins, finding time to stop and take some yoga pictures, even finding a moment to meditate on top of a stone wall that was part of the ruins. Sadly the meditation stopped abruptly when a security guard tapped our legs and told us to get off.

Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Or maybe this was a lesson to appreciate, to just appreciate the beauty of it all. The beauty of Machu Picchu, the beauty of time, the beauty of allowing this all to happen and to move with the craziness of it instead of fight it. Natalie and I laughed more than you could have imagined yesterday. What luck we had and yet we had a beautiful time and are so blessed to have even a peak at Machu Picchu.

So if you’re planning a trip to Machu Picchu anytime soon, enjoy it and don’t do it in an hour.




Yoga Teacher Training Cusco July 20, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraberney @ 12:55 pm

Today was day 1 of my yoga teacher training course in Cusco. Intense? Yes. I am one of four students who signed up for the 3-week teacher training course in the ashtanga and anusara disciplines. What does that mean? The training combines the intensity and constant flow or movement of ashtanga (power yoga came out of this style) with the alignment and heart opening principles of anusara yoga.

The course looks something like this: two 2-hour theory sessions each day focused on topics such as pranayama breathing, asanas (postures), chakras, and meditation, as well as two 2-hour yoga classes each day. (You can read more about the course here:

Another important part of the day: Agni Hatra, an ancient fire ceremony in which I meditate and welcome in the day with a group of women at the moment of the sun rise.The ceremony takes place each morning at the healing house, my new home in Cusco. The house is home to all sorts of travelers staying for an extended period of time and doing all sorts of interesting exploration such as cranial-sacral therapy courses, reiki trainings etc.

So what does this teacher training mean for me? What is my intention for the next 3 weeks? To deepen my practice, to develop and begin to explore what teaching yoga means for me. Yoga has been an integral part of my last 2 years. My yoga mat was my comfort during the constant ups and downs of Peace Corps, it was the place I explored new postures, challenged myself, reflected in my journal and practiced meditation. This process of exploration led to introducing mothers and children in Llama to yoga, to new movements they had never tried before, and to sitting in meditation or reflection. The importance of yoga and my practice became clear during my travels when I returned again and again to the solace and passion I found in my heart on my mat.

The meditation and spiritual components to yoga have fed my soul these last two years, the practice has given me breath during the ups and downs and filled me with energy that keeps me coming back for more. So I sign off for the next few weeks as I delve into this training. I promise a detailed report at the end!


Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia July 9, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraberney @ 8:21 pm

The deal: A 4 x 4 truck, 6 tourists, a Bolivian guide, below 0 temperatures, and the largest salt lake in the world. Image

I signed up with the Aga, the Polish woman I am traveling with, for a 3 day trip to Salar de Uyuni: Salt lakes in southwestern Bolivia. The whiteness of the lakes goes on for miles and miles, taking all perspective from photos and giving the illusion that everything is floating in the air. So you can guess what all the tourists were doing…taking pictures, and lots of them!




In addition to visiting the lakes, we visited an active volcano, several Laguna’s (one of which is appears to be red because of red-colored minerals beneath the surface), and even got a glimpse of flamingos native to the region.




Iguazu Falls, Misiones, Argentina

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraberney @ 2:33 pm

I am left without words to describe the intensity and beauty of the falls, I will leave you with some photos from my visit.








Comuna Paraiso, Misiones, Argentina

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraberney @ 2:25 pm


A little over 2 weeks later and I have a second wwoofing experience to share. I spent the last few weeks at Comuna Paraiso, a spiritual, experimental, community-centered space that is very much in the works. 


The kitchen and housing area at the commune

The commune is located in Misiones, several hours south of Iguazu Falls in northeastern Argentina. What makes it so unique is its connection with the surrounding community; after a few weeks I knew most of the neighbors by name, had shared meals with several families that lived nearby and had adjusted to hearing the so-called Spanish native to the area. I say so-called Spanish because what I heard was more of a Portuguese with some Spanish words thrown in; a language that brought music to my ears, each word a note to a song that they sung and that I did not understand a word of. 



Neighbor’s house


The dirt is red!

Portuguese because the commune is a few miles from the Brazilian border and as a result most families came over from Brazil and Portuguese was their first language.

What also makes the commune unique are all of the different characters behind its design and development.

Eli, a former economics professor in Buenos Aires who made a new life for herself when she bought land in Misiones to create this creative space. Now a reiki master and yoga teacher Eli is still in the transitioning phases of moving her life from the city to the commune. To her the commune is a space for workshops, sharing, learning and exploration.

Andy, the architect who designed the living space, and Martin, the environmental specialist who designed and is the process of developing more ways for the commune to lower their carbon footprint and incorporate renewable energies into its design.  Their concept for the project involves the local community and asks for experimentation with activities such as planting new varieties of trees with locals or training them in renewable energy strategies to bring their vision of sustainability to the community. 


Aga, a landscape architect from Poland who has also been traveling around Argentina wwoofing for the last few months, and my travel partner for the next 2 weeks (The plan: Salta–Salar de Unyuni–La Paz–Lake Titicaca– Cuzco).


The work was the opposite of the work at the former farm. Instead of endless amounts of work handed to me, I was given the space to explore and design the projects and tasks I wanted to work on. Slow mornings consisted of squeezing fresh orange juice and making yogurt, fruit, and granola concoctions, sitting on the porch and watching the sun slowly make its way out. I worked on a variety of projects such as designing a stone stairway that led down to a creek nearby. I came up with the idea with Aga after we nearly fell down the former steep muddy path to the creek.



View from the commune

I experimented with some new foods and cooking, successfully sprouting flax seed and lentils, cooking home-made pizzas over the campfire, as well as a risotto. Evenings almost always ended in a campfire and stargazing until my eyes couldn’t stay open any longer. 


And then there was the green roof. Have you heard of a green roof? Seen a picture of a house or building with a garden on top of it? I had not until I arrived. The concept: Plant grass and other plants with very short roots on the roof to act as a natural and free heating system for the house and as an ecological solution to other types of roofs. 



A section of the green roof at the commune had been completed earlier during a workshop, so we focused most of our energy on prepping the section of the roof that had not been worked on. Layers of plaster, asphalt paint, membranes, rocks and soil were all part of the process before the plants came into the picture. These layers were super important to act as a barrier for the roots of plants which can grow down into the wood and break the roofing. 


Granja Tía Nora June 15, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraberney @ 5:04 pm

When I had had enough of the wine and delectable food in Mendoza, I headed a few hours north to the town of San Juan. In San Juan I would have my experience “wwoofing” (working as a volunteer through worldwide opportunities on organic farms).

I arrived at Granja Tia Nora not quite knowing what to expect….a bunch of hippies that had run out of money traveling, camping out on the grass despite the freezing weather? A laid-back farming couple dressed in overalls?

It all proved a little more normal than that. I was greeted by Pedro and Lucia immediately, a darling couple who bought the land about 5 years ago with money that Nora, Lucia’s aunt, left behind after passing. Pedro and Lucia glow with the love they share for the farm; they have created an intricate community in which each plant and animal has an important role to contribute. Image


While I did not work with them during the day, we shared mealtimes. Over the mountainous piles of bread (what is it with Argentina and white bread?) they shared stories about the process of getting the farm certified-organic, their journey from the city to the farm, and the countless number of volunteers that have stayed with them.

The farm is massive: more animals than I can remember, endless vineyards, olive trees that seem to have faces, an organic vegetable garden (which they are creating an outdoor theater inside of), and a greenhouse.  And all in just 5 years! 




So what did I do exactly? I worked 3 hours every morning and evening, with a long Argentine-style siesta in between. I had the pleasure of working alongside Lauren (Pennsylvania) and Luz (Buenos Aires)—two other volunteers that added to the fun and kept spirits up on the days where we just couldn’t dig anymore of that irrigation canal or continue preparing that plant bed. 


To my gain, we spoke in Spanish the entire time. It was glorious, mainly because my Spanish is bad! Ok, I admit I am fluent, I can get my point across, people understand me, I understand them. But man I learnt bad Spanish in rural Peru. It’s like the bad English we all joke about that we hear every so often in the US. The Spanish I picked up in Peru was from people whose first language was Quechua and who sort of learnt Spanish afterwards.

But back to Tia Nora… what did I do again? I spent a lot of time with the animals. A lot of time! To the point that my mom started calling me “milky-cow girl” when we spoke over the phone. Mornings and evenings always began by feeding the gazillions of animals…Horses, chickens, geese, ducks, rabbits, owls, peacocks, sheep, goats, quails, turkeys, a cow and a pig…if you ever have a question about what to feed any of the above, I’m your girl. I also got to milk the cow once a day, which I so appreciated for its rich-creamy-tasting milk, that I made a tradition of drinking raw each evening to celebrate the day.



So when I wasn’t taking care of my new best friends, I spent a lot of time working in the garden, transplanting veggies, making more space for carrots, preparing plant beds with hummus, and just plain enjoying having my hands in the dirt.



It was a great first “wwoofing” experience that I am very thankful for. And one that I was ready for a rest from after a while, the taking care of animal part at least. If anyone was worried, I have no intention of becoming a farmer and surrounding myself with gazillions of four-legged friends.