first half

drinking water, amongst other things

Around here summer flows quickly past on waves of palpable humidity and heat mirages; it’s August already! Amidst all the heat and humidity and various activities, I have had time to at least briefly dwell upon those impending three months in Peru. I came up with three questions. So, I emailed my Andeo (the Peru program) correspondent two of my questions. (I lost the third question somewhere in the recesses of my unfocused, summer vacationing brain. I’ll let you know when I find it.) My email, in short, consisted of these two questions: Can I drink the tap water in Peru, and do I need a visa? When I wrote my email, I was pretty confident that I knew the answers to these two questions. Still am.
When I asked whether or not I will be able to drink the water in Peru, what I really wanted to know was whether or not my host family will be providing filtered water for me to drink. The Andeo lady surprised me with her answer. She basically stated that I might very well be able to drink the tap water, though I should stick to bottle water for the first week while my body is adjusting to the altitude, and that I should ask my host family about it when I get there. Well, her advice directly contradicted my assumption: I should not drink the tap water. And, since I have traveled and lived in several less developed countries, I was quite hesitant to embrace her advice with an innocently trusting, “OKAY!” So, I whipped out my handy dandy Lonely Planet Peru travel book (thank you Uncle Tom!) and found a blurb on drinking water. There it was in black and white on page 550, “Tap water in Peru is not safe to drink.” Ha! I knew it! And I felt better immediately. I’m on familiar territory if I can’t drink the water in a foreign country. It just feels right. With that conflict of information resolved, I immediately started searching for water filters, since I refuse to assume that my host family will have filtered water readily available, and I will most certainly not be living off little bottles of water in Peru. Mother suggested I look at reviews for water filters on a reliable backpacking website. There were numerous options, of course. But, I narrowed my options significantly by deciding that I definitely wanted a filter that removes both viruses and bacteria, not just the latter. The most cost-effective and simple thing I found is not really even a filter. It’s called SteriPEN. You stick the end of this little, vaguely pen-shaped thing into the appropriate amount of water and it kills everything dangerous in the water by zapping it with ultraviolet light. As Mother and I were discussing this clever contraption, we recalled that we already own a small pump filter that we had purchased for some excursion in Africa. She dug it out of the attic. And in the end, that is probably what I will use.
You may recall that I had emailed the Peruvian embassy and consulate and called the consulate about the visa thing. Well, I never got a reply. I was annoyed. And when my beloved father found out that I still didn’t know about my visa, he was annoyed that the Andeo people had not just told me whether or not I need one, since they are being paid to organize the details of my trip. In any case, the Andeo lady responded promptly, as always, and confirmed my suspicion: namely, I don’t need to apply for a visa. Since I will not be a proper university student, I don’t need a student visa. Therefore, when I arrive in Peru, my passport will probably be stamped with some sort of 90-day touristy visa-ish thing. And I will go on with my life.

Now we have come to the other things. tickets. applications. deferral letters. lists. Let us begin with tickets.

Before Beach Week (a biennial, week-long beach gathering of my paternal extended family), Mother had been searching for tickets to Peru and had found nothing fantastic. Then we went to Beach Week, where Uncle Tom revealed the wonders of Spirit Airlines. To put it bluntly: Spirit is cheap. Their flights cost only a third or maybe less of what other airlines charge to fly down south. ‘Tis wonderful! Of course, they don’t fly a huge number of places, but thankfully, Lima, Peru is one of the places they do fly.
The other thing about flights that is being considered is whether or not one of the parents will accompany me to Lima and send me off to Cusco. The reason for such an odd move is that there is no possible way to fly to Cusco from home without spending a night in Lima. And the parents are not quite thrilled at the thought of me spending a night in a foreign country by myself, to say the least. I am not quite sure what I think about that prospect. Regardless, one or another of my parents will probably fly down to Lima, maybe a few days early so we can tour the city, and see me off on my flight to Cusco.

I gave up on the second set of Panama DTS people (the ones on some Panamanian island called Bocas del Toro). I emailed them weeks ago and have recieved no response whatsoever. Therefore, I printed off the application for original Panama DTS and have begun the gradual process of filling it out. One must never rush these things. Or at least I do not intend to this time.

Yesterday I finally received a letter from UNC-CH. While waiting for a few brief minutes after finishing cooking supper for dad to come home so we could eat it, I moseyed down to the mailbox. I instantly recognized the UNC-CH logo on the envelope with my name visible through the flimsy plastic window of the envelope. Still juggling the rest of the mail, I ripped it open with my teeth and scanned the letter. SUCESS! Gracious and sensible Mr. Farmer granted me a deferral until the fall of 2012. God be praised! Along with some kind but scripted sentences about successes and other such worthy goals, the letter detailed the terms of my deferral: I must not deviate from what I outlined in my deferral request; I must not take any college courses; I must pay whatever fees I owe to UNC-CH; and I must write again by December 31st to confirm my deferral. Sounds feasible. My gap year is officially permissible.

I started a packing list. I discovered about a week ago that I was coming up with random but vital and not entirely obvious things to bring to Peru. And I was not writing them down. Afraid I would forget my sudden packing inspirations, I titled a loose piece of notebook paper “Peru” and jotted down my thoughts. I have been adding to it as items come to me. I have not yet started my comprehensive packing list. The current one is for things I might forget about, like cold medicine, chapstick, peanut butter (oh yes), and extra led for my mechanical pencils (just thought of that one and wrote it down). With any luck, I will have exactly everything I need, no more, no less, with me in Peru.

bits and pieces

Wow. It’s been a while since I last posted, but not much has happened. I just have a few bits and pieces of information about various gap-year related items to relate to you, my dear reader(s).

I finished that second (“primary”) application to the Peru Spanish school program. I sent it in. I reviewed it over the phone with the nice lady with whom I have been communicating. That conversation, by the way, was really just to remind me that I’ll be a minor that and I should obey my host family’s rules and that I shouldn’t try to order a beer or something, et cetera. Besides informing me of things I already knew, the lady also answered questions I had like what the name of my school is (Academia Latinoamericana), what telecommunication option is best in Peru (a calling card), and what to do about altitude sickness (sleep a lot, don’t physically exert myself much, and consume anything containing ginger). A day or two after the phone call, I received an email notifying me that I had been accepted into the Peru gap year program. Attached to the email were six PDF files with everything from a brief Peruvian history lesson to a packing list to advice about culture shock. Printed that. Read it. Twas rather amusing, slightly helpful, and somewhat interesting. Now I am waiting to hear who my host family is, which information I am not guaranteed to have until a week before I leave. Supposedly people are typically informed much sooner. We shall see.

As for the DTS options (for your reading convenience: Columbia, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Spain), I proceeded to look at the websites of each location, searching for information about the bases and conformation of the DTSs’ dates (the DTS I attend must start in January 2012). I determined that two of the bases, Columbia and Costa Rica, did not have 2012 DTSs at the correct time or for the appropriate amount of time, so I eliminated those two. Although I had been convinced for at least a week and a half that I really wanted to go to Spain, I concluded after some more thought that I did not. And here’s why: I currently fully intend to spend as many semesters of college abroad as possible (why go to college in the US when I could pay the same tuition and live in another country?). There are not many study abroad programs available in South and Central America as there are in Europe. Therefore, I want to “save” going to Spain for when I am in college and can study abroad there. Oh, and I think the last few sentences make more sense if you know that I don’t want to go to the same country more than once if I can help it; I’d rather experience other countries and return later if I can or so desire. Anyways, I eliminated Spain. About a week ago, I emailed the YWAM bases in Panama, Nicaragua, and Argentina to further enquire about the DTS dates that were unclear on their websites. I also emailed a YWAM-affiliated elementary school in Panama to find out of I could perhaps teach or teacher-assist there. Argentina emailed back to tell me that their single DTS lasted an entire year. That’s out. The Panama school emailed back to say that their school year is from March to December. Can’t do that. Nicaragua replied that their DTS starts mid January. Hey, that works! Panama has not yet answered my inquiry, which is unfortunate since I liked the looks of that base best.
As you may recall, I have to send in my pretty-please-with-a-mango-on-top-grant-me-a-deferral-til-2012 letter by July 1st. That day happens to be this Friday. Fortunately, I have already written a paragraph or three of introductory periphery and blither blather about the Peru program. Now, unless I receive an email from the Panama YWAM, make my decision between it and Nicaragua, and apply within the next two days, I intend to finish that letter with a few paragraphs on my DTS plans, put forth in the futuristic, I-intend-to-I-plan-to-I-will tense, naturally. Then, once I (hopefully) am granted my deferral, and once I have applied to a DTS program, all that will be left will be to send money here and there and wait.

Travel-wise, airline ticket plans for Peru are currently in progress. Mother did discover that it takes no less than two days to travel to Cusco, Peru, unless one desires to arrive in the middle of the night.
From what I have googled, I should not need a student visa to enter Peru (something I still need to call the US Peruvian embassy to confirm) but should simply be issued the sufficient 90-day tourist visa upon entry.
Speaking of travel documents, tomorrow we are going to try to renew my passport for the third time. Yup. Third try. The first time the post office guy informed us that he needed a photo copy of my driver’s license (something that had not been mentioned in all the fine print I had scrutinized on the US Passport website). Of course, I had left it at home since I should not have needed it. The second time, at an office in our local university, the lady thought my taken-at-home-and-edited-with-a-special-passport-tool picture was too dark and complained that I was submitting my old passport instead of a copy of my birth certificate as proof of my identity (neither of which the other guy had mentioned). She suggested they take my picture, but I declined, having already observed the ghastly photographs taken by that office for the university IDs. So, tomorrow we go again, with two versions of a bright, new picture and copies of my driver’s license, Mother’s license, and my birth certificate. Only the US government could deny us. Bah.

initial application

The initial application. I filled it out on Monday or Tuesday (can’t remember which) and sent it in on Wednesday or Thursday with some money. As instructed by the lady I called, I had Mother co-sign wherever I had to sign. Once the people receive this initial application, the scope of which was quite cursory as they only asked for my name, address, and the country I am interested in, they’ll send me the real application. I suppose the parents and I will have to sign my life away on that real application. And to think, this is all only for the first part of my gap year! Yipes!

On a somewhat gap-year-unrelated note, I’M GRADUATING TOMORROW!

That’s really all I have to say. And this post is way too short, and there’s not really enough information to make it worth it. But, I don’t care!

starting early

After spending a few brief moments in thought about this blog and my impending graduation on May 14th (these thoughts enter unbidden into one’s mind when one starts attending the last class of this and the last exam of that), I decided that it would be best for me and, perhaps, everyone else, if I started this blog before my graduation. This way, if anyone happens to ask me at my graduation or anytime soon  if I can email them or somehow keep them up to date with my gap year travels and experiences and such, I can say, “Suuure!..Conveniently, I have a blog just for that. Here, want me to write it down for you? It’s…” and I scribble furiously, “… justblitherblather.wordpress.com.” And now, whoever asked is happy, and I don’t have to send out mass emails to people who may or may not genuinely want to know about my life at the moments when I invade their inbox with my verbose, excessive missives. So. I’m starting early.

Okay, so now that my explanation is out of the way, here’s what we have so far on the gap year: I’m going to one of two countries in South America – Ecuador or Peru – for three months to go to Spanish school, during which time I will stay with a host family and eat their food, et cetera. After that? Well, I have a plan, but the parents aren’t quite on board. So, I guess I should say I don’t know.

I’m starting a new paragraph because it has occurred to me that some of the paragraph above won’t make sense if I don’t give some background information. Basically, I have no idea what I “want to be when I grow up.” And that’s a problem. I (and especially the parents) don’t want to waste time and money sending me off to my first year of college with no idea as to what I will study, except of course, general studies stuff. Therefore, Mother, who had become aware of the idea of a “gap year” – a year off between high school and college, generally – figured that I should do one. I have been, and, I am sure, will continue to be, intermittently opposed and in favor of the idea; nevertheless, I’m doing it. The deadline for a decision was Cinco de Mayo (that’s today, by the way).  I suppose I’ve spent four or five months now googling and googling and reading and sorting through hundreds if not thousands of gap year options. I started with the book The Complete Guide to the Gap Year: The Best Things to Do Between High School and College by Kristin White to find some initial options and from there it only expanded, especially after Grandma L. did some internet searching of her own and sent me some more options (here I must say, THANK YOU GRANDMA, because it is quite possible that she was the one that found the program that I’m going to use, although really I can’t remember). Anyways, I had everything bookmarked on the computer (there were 60 or 70 bookmarks for a while), and Mother and I categorized them and gradually discarded a few here and there until we were down to 10 or so options.  By that point (a week or so ago), I had decided what I wanted to do and was only waiting and hoping for Mother and Father jump on board. And they did, mostly. Now, in accordance with a discussion that we had to pin down some gap year guidelines, I hope to be out of the country and doing something for five to eight months during the 2011-2012 school year, whilest everyone else my age is wandering their respective campuses trying to find food.

There you have it, people. That’s the summary. Regarding this blog, I do not plan to post anything until I have more information to give about my gap year (read: until the negotiations about the second half of my gap year have to come some conclusion). And I hope I will have enough self control to be able to keep myself from posting trivialities about my life, just because it’s fun. We shall see. Until next time!