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3 posts from September 2012

09/21/2012

Relaxation

Finally, a relaxing week! I’ve loved the go go go of Lima life for the most part, but after two weekends of travel I was in desperate need of a few days to catch up on sleep and relax. The weekend consisted of sushi, a food festival, and a lot of relaxation. Then, this week, I went to an awesome soccer game at the Estadio Nacional in Lima!

Last weekend to initiate the relaxation some of the girls from my group and I went to Mistura, a huge food festival/heaven on earth. It was incredible!! I have never been to a food festival which now seems insane since food is one of my favorite things on the planet. I had been warned not to eat anything before going which was the best advice/warning ever. We arrived at 11am and didn’t leave until 10pm and I can safely say I didn’t go longer than 20 minutes without eating something (even if it was just a sample!). I knew the festival was the real deal when we walked in and immediately were handed two packets of alkaseltzer powder from the event staff! I was bummed when my camera died as soon as I got there so I only have mental pictures of all the delicious foods I tried but pictures wouldn’t have done it justice I suppose. I’ll just give a quick run through of all the things I ate…

Chocolate covered strawberries, camu camu, yogurt, marmelades, breads, brownie, truffles, chocolate cake, alfajores, queso helado (my personal favorite of the day–and not actually queso/cheese), hot chocolate, aji de gallina, rice with shrimp, lomo saltado over pasta, sausage, ham, picarones, honey, the list goes on and on. In addition to this, I ate enough chocolate and cheese for a small army but it was SO delicious!!! I also tried various types of Pisco but my favorite was chocolate pisco–unreal. Full and content, I left a very happy girl.

Yesterday I went to a soccer game in the National Soccer Stadium in Lima to see a game between Universitario (no–contrary to popular belief, not from any college team), and Cristal, both club teams from Lima. I have never been to anything like this before! It was quite the experience. For starters, Peruvians get really really into their fútbol, and sometimes it turns violent. So much so that there is security surrounding the entire stadium for at least a 2 block radius. Not just everyday policemen, either. They had horses complete with riot masks, policemen with riot shields, others with machine guns and helmets, the whole deal. And we went through 3 different security checks where they took everything that could be used as a weapon, including lighters, hair clips and even belts (thus we had lots of students with saggy pants haha).

Once we made it into the stadium and found our seats we really got to take the whole thing it. The energy was incredible; so much jumping, chanting, scarf waving, insulting refs and players and whistling. We were told that whenever our fan section went crazy we had to go crazy too, so as not to be mistaken as fans from the opposite team (this apparently can result in violence). At half time the score was 0-0 but that didn’t last long. Our team was scored on shortly into the second half and this was not good news. But it was cool to watch the other side light flares in the stands. We stayed behind for the rest of the half until, with less than two minutes left there was a foul in the penalty box and we got a penalty kick–which our player scored. The whole side went CRAZY and all of us were jumping and screaming. It was quite the experience. After we witnessed a little bit of fan tension as a small “fight” broke out. All we saw were glass bottles smashed and guys whipping the air with recovered belts. A little frightening but we escaped unscathed.

Looking forward to a couple more days of rest and then a few weeks where holidays cut the school weeks smaller (the best!). Hopefully I’ll be traveling a little bit and taking advantage of the holidays! Also–to those of you posting about Pumpkin Spice lattes and fall–I envy you a lot, they don’t have either here in Peru!

If you look really closely across the stadium you can see the red flare

Peruvian sushi with Plantains in it!

09/14/2012

Cusco/Sacred Valley/Machu Picchu

Hello all! It has been a super hectic and stressful week and thus I am pretty late on catching up on my blogging/picture uploading which had to, surprisingly, take a back seat to a couple exams. I had a Quechua quiz on Monday which it turned out that I overstudied for so I’m pretty sure that one won’t cause me any problems when the grade comes back. However, the same cannot be said for my history class. After reading the 200+ pages for our exam I felt moderately prepared for the two long essays. Rookie/foreigner mistake. Not sure exactly how to convey the drop in my stomach when I realized, after looking at the questions, that I had no idea what I was going to write, but it was there and it was painful. Thats about all I want to say about that. So….let me tell you about Cusco, the Sacred Valley and, wait for it, Machu Picchu!!! It must first be noted that the motto of our trip would  be something along the lines of “keep drinking”. The number of plastic water bottles I drank would make my sister sick (sorry Rachel, but my nalgene wasn’t an option). Prepare yourselves now for many references to water.

Our flight left early and thus we had to be at the airport (for the second week in a row!!!) at 5am. Thank you daddy for making me a morning person. I knew it was going to be a good weekend when the ticket lady gave me a window seat because I tend to stare out/lean over other people between me and the window to see what we’re flying over. Glued to the window, I saw the sun for the first time in a while, the beautiful Andes (both snowcapped and clay red), small little villages formed around tiny bodies of water, and an incredible view of the city of Cusco as we got ready to land. Immediately people began to feel the effects of the altitude but I think coming from the mountains lessened the symptoms for me. As a precaution I had been drinking more water than my body has ever experienced to hydrate myself and as people began to feel lightheaded I frantically began purchasing water everywhere. We made our way to the hotel where we were advised to rest for the day so as not to get altitude sickness. Yeah right, i thought, grabbing my water, ready to conquer altitude sickness. As some of the group headed up to rest, the rest ventured out into the city, first towards the Plaza de Armas.

The Plaza de Armas is a beautiful square with two beautiful iglesias (churches), a grand fountain, and cobblestones, which for some reason make me feel very at home. In awe of the amazing sights, we just sat for a while and took it all in before venturing into one of the churches to attend a local artesania fair where we bought gifts to support local artists. After perusing and purchasing some items we decided to head to lunch to get some food and yet more water to keep us going. I had a typical Peruvian sandwich called a Chicharron (pork, sweet potatoes, onion). After lunch our group was reduced to just two as the others headed back to rest (probably a smart idea) but the adventurer in me was not about to go back. Alyssa and I made our way to the Mercado de San Pedro where we had heard about the good deals and less touristy Cusco experience. It was so cool! Stand after stand of fresh fruit smoothies, flowers, textiles, and some weird finds such as jars of snakes, strange goat skeletons, and…a bathroom which I still am at a loss for words of how to describe (see picture below).

Our next point of interest was a good way across the city at a place called San Blas where we had heard there was an amazing overlook and view of the city. Warned of the steepness of the hike, we continued chugging waters and preparing ourselves to feel very out of shape. About half way up we encountered two local women with their BABY SHEEP (eeeeeepppppp) and I almost cried as they let me hold it. Had I not been at a disadvantage with the altitude I would have run away with the little cutie, but they would have caught up to me if I had avoided passing out. A while later we reached the Mirador del Inca where the city of Cusco was laid out before us. It was breathtaking–literally. We spent time there just taking it in. Fast forward to dinner and we find me, feet aching from all the walking, worn out from fighting the altitude, and finally ready to head back to sleep.

The next morning we woke up and began our day full of archaeological sights in the Sacred Valley (see picture below). I’m going to simply skim over these since it would take too many adjectives to give them justice and I’m not trying to make this a novel. First we went to Saqsaywaman (yes, people joke about it as sexy woman haha) which was an important sight for the Incas because it was right outside the capital of Cusco. Also, it should be noted that my rentention of all the facts our tour guide told us throughout the day is terrible, because you could usually find me trailing behind the group trying to take pictures and take all the beauty in. After holding some more baby sheep and llamas, we headed down into the Sacred Valley which is indescribable but so incredibly full of scenery from God. I was in awe the entire day. We visited and hiked up (still consuming enought water for a whale) Pusaq and Oyllantaytambo which were both beautiful terraced Incan agriculture/cermonial sights. the last part of the day we caught our train up to Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu, which we would visit bright and early in the morning.

This is where my experience took a slight detour from my perfect vision of how the trip was going to go. After planning to get up and catch the first bus at 5:30am up the mountain, I was super excited to catch the sunset and bask in the greatness that is Machu Picchu. However, I woke up with some sort of sickness that had other plans for my morning. Reduced to tears of frustration and disappointment as the rest of the group left for Machu Picchu I went to stay with Marion, one of our wonderful program directors who took care of me/let me watch harry potter in her hotel room. In this moment “trust the process” rang so true for me. I decided that I would make it up the mountain sooner or later and that sulking wasn’t going to make me better. Finally, three hours later I felt stable enough to venture up, hoping any sickness would hold off long enough for me to see the ruins.

Again, words to describe Machu Picchu do not exist, you simply have to go there to experience the unbelievable intelligence, strength and awe of their empire. It still gives me goose bumps to think about it. I could have sat and taken pictures all day. When Marion and I first got up to the top the fog was still rising, revealing the ruins below and then the sun came out (turns out it had rained all morning). I am actually at a loss for how to describe it. Just see the pictures below haha. I think I still need time to process it. Its not everyday you get to see one of the seven wonders of the world. A little after noon we had to head back to catch our train back to Cusco where we rested and went to dinner at this awesome magical restaurant called Yanupay Cafe. All the proceeds go to help provide education and an after school program to disadvantaged kids in the city. Here, I cursed my stomach and ate a brownie and ice cream (which they are famous for) and then headed back to sleep. By the way–my water bottle intake tally for this day had to have topped 12 (it was unreal and completely uncharacteristic)

The next morning we left the beautiful sunshine lit, Andean mountain surrounded, fresh air filled city of Cusco to return to Lima where it was foggy and cold. Bleh. It was, without a doubt in mind, one of the most beautiful weekends I have ever experienced. But it also reminded me of the beauty that is Waynesville, North Carolina. The mountain streams and fall colors that we have are unrivaled in their own way. Missing my mountain home this week! On another note, I am super excited for today! I am going to the largest food festival in South America, called Mistura. They have sections of all kinds of foods and bands playing and demonstrations, all the works. It is my first food festival which is dangerous, but I am SO EXCITED. Look for pictures to come soon!

Feeding llamas like its no big deal

Sacred Valley

The scary public restroom

Plaza de Armas

09/05/2012

Iquitos Adventures and Unanswered Questions

My trip to the Amazon River town of Iquitos, and subsequent trek through the jungle is something I will never forget. It is hard to think about how I will ever describe all that happened this weekend; the amazing animals I saw, the friendly people I met, and the breathtaking scenery that constantly surrounded me. I think it will be easiest to go day by day and then you can relive some of my experiences through pictures below! (ps we did a lot so this post is liable to be very lengthy)

Day 1: Our first day started off before the crack at dawn as my friend Emily and I caught a taxi to the airport at 4:15am.  After checking in and boarding the plane, we were delayed an hour as Iquitos was covered in a fog that could not be flown through. Finally, after an unbelievably long hour, we were flying over some of the most beautiful landscapes God has created. We flew over the Andes mountains, rusty red in areas and completely snow-capped in others. It was amazing! As we neared Iquitos we were surrounded by the Amazon river and its tributaries, snaking their way through the thick jungle. I was so excited! After deboarding we met our guide for the next two days who took us on our first moto-taxi ride through the town. While a great experience, moto-taxis are basically opportunities for small pieces of sand to become lodged in your eye and thus not my favorite form of transportation. Thankfully my host mom had lent me a pair of glasses that were so big I lovingly referred to them as my goggles, and I was able to return without a scratched cornea. We were taken to the port where we took a boat to a place called the Serpentario (or snakehouse). NOT GOING, I thought to myself, until I heard they had monkeys!! We arrived and I was immediately dying on the inside as the man placed a small baby monkey in my arms who cooed at me and clung to my shirt with his little people hands. We also held a sloth who was so slow and adorable. I would like to forget the part of the visit where we were introduced to the Anaconda and another menacing and hissy boa constrictor which some crazy people in my group (maybe everyone but me) held. I did however, touch the snake and it is on video here:(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLzALWAzQ-E&feature=share) If you don’t know me well, this video might give you a glimpse of my immense and totally valid fear of snakes. Anyways, after using every ounce of bravery in me, I was ready for the next activity. We were taken to our jungle lodging for the night (a nice lodge tucked away along a side river) which included delicious meals and hammocks while still having no electricity and the feel of truly being in the jungle. After lunch we casually went swimming in the Nanay river, so warm it felt like bath water, returned to the lodge to rest, and then went on a nocturnal outing into the jungle with our guides who pointed out all the unique bird/animal sounds. What a great first day!!

Day 2: We awoke (scratch that, we were awoken) at 5:30am by roosters in the morning and our guides for a morning birdwatch along the river complete with catching the beautiful sunrise. We saw neat trees, beautiful birds and one of the most beautiful sunrises as the sky shone bright orange and yellow. After a hearty breakfast, we packed up our things and prepared for our overnight hiking/camping adventure with our trusty guides. After a 2 hour boat ride up the Amazon, we landed in a small village where the family of our guides fed us a delicious lunch of Juane (rice, spices, olives, egg and chicken all wrapped and steamed in a big leaf) and we curiously looked on as the village received two cows from the market on small boats!! So cultural. We then took a short boat ride and completed an hour hike to reach our campsite, literally feet from an Amazon river lake where we swam as soon as we could. We then ate fresh oranges and hung out while dinner was made. Our dinner, despite camping, was like a feast. Fresh yucca (a potato-ish food, best deep-fried), rice, and a typical Amazonian meat which from what I could gather is a wild boar (maybe?). I obviously didn’t question what we were eating and chowed down. Terrified I would be eaten by an anaconda and paranoid that I was catching malaria as I felt like I was being eaten alive by mosquitos (which turned out to be false) I opted out of the nocturnal adventure when I was told we would be doing the same hike the next day. Call me lame, but I really am that scared of snakes, especially when they sneak up on me in the dark.

Day 3: Again awoken super early but this time by small monkeys running all through the branches over our tent!! It was the coolest thing. I could see their outlines chasing each other as they played in the canopy. Our first activity of the day was fishing for pirhanas which would then become our breakfast. I caught 3 pirhanas, scary little fish with razor sharp teeth who refuse to die and are also sneaky bait stealers (hence why I only caught three in the course of over an hour). After frying the fish up we sat down to eat. It was the first time I had ever had to de scale my fish and suck the meat off the bones but it was delicious!! Especially accompanied with deep fried yucca and bread and jam. After packing up the tent like a pro (thanks Wilderness Trail) we left for what I thought was going to be a calm hike back out to our boat. NOT THE CASE. Three and a half hours later, after seemingly aimlessly bushwhacking our way through the thick jungle (which included building bridges over bogs, drinking water from trees, and sweating off any weight we had gained from all the starches) we arrived back at the house we had eaten lunch at the day before. Ready to be back to Iquitos for a less stressful adventure (there were times I thought we were certainly lost forever) I was overjoyed when our boat finally landed back at the port around 5pm. Our wonderfully adventurous Jungle expedition tour was over, and an amazing experience pictures/words can’t fully explain. After showering we headed out to get some dinner and explore the city. I had a sandwich (without meat Rachel Sease, you’d be proud) and some plaintain balls (delicious even if they sound strange) with a Maracuya Sour (passionfruit drink). It was all so so good and light compared to all the rice and starch i’ve eaten in Peru. We watched some Capoeira martial arts, perused the local markets and then headed back to the hotel for a good nights rest.

Day 4: My favorite day by far, however the most difficult part of the trip for me to verbalize, because it effected me in many different ways. But we’ll get to that shortly. With a tour planned at 9am we got up and ready and left our hostel by 7am to explore some more in the light. The views were amazing and there is nothing like seeing the sun poke through the light clouds in the morning over the Amazon river. After a light breakfast we met our guide Billy who was so so great and we headed to the market of Belen for the first leg of the tour. As we walked into the Belen zone of Iquitos and entered the market (which I didn’t get pictures of due to high risk of theft and my arms full, but another thankfully got pictures I will post soon) I was shocked. Over 5000 vendors sell their goods which range from fresh (and I mean f-r-e-s-h) fruits and vegetables, every type of meat possible, alcohol, clothes, toiletries, local artesania, etc. It is incredibly crowded and would be an intense experience for any germaphob/would be shut down in the US. It was dirty and smelly but I loved it. Our guide bought us different things to try such as Camu-Camu, a cherry-sized fruit with 3x the vitamin c as an orange, a dessert that tasted like cake batter, and my least favorite but the most cultural, a thick, fried grub…it was so gross but so cool!

The next part of the trip is where I experienced every type of emotion possible. Elation that I was experiencing the Amazon, Iquitos, and Belen, yet anger and guilt after experiencing the poverty that confronted us as we made our way through Belen to the river. With trash everywhere, houses that flood each time the river rises in the spring, and outhouses that float on the same river that people bathe/wash clothes in I was angered by the fact that i live the way that I do in the United States. We take so many things for granted in our lives and it is terrible that it takes seeing places like Belen to recognize this. I can’t quite express all that I felt, but it was uncomfortable. I had so many questions, Are these people happy? does anyone do anything to help them? How do they live? But these questions are typical of an American and the fact that I was questioning these things upset me even more. Just because someone has less than me does not immediately mean that they are not happy, that they need to be helped or that they don’t have the capacity to survive in the conditions. I am still struggling with the things that I saw and my reactions to these things and just pray for the ability to better understand and interpret my experience. Just because we are blessed with opportunities to travel and see unique places does not mean that we are there to save the poor and try to be heroes. Bleh. Still trying to figure all this out.

After leaving Belen we went back to Iquitos for lunch at the tour company restaurant where the sweet staff fed us fresh pineapple, bananas, watermelon, passionfruit juice and delicious chicken sandwiches. We then headed to the Butterfly farm and animal rescue center where we saw ocelots, sloths, monkeys, and some of the most beautiful butterflies in the world–literally. For the last leg of our tour we went to the Amazon river to look for pink dolphins. Unfortunately it is the low season on the river and the dolphins like deeper water so we weren’t able to see any. To compensate for the disappointment we took a spontaneous swim in the Amazon before rushing back to the hostel to change and catch our flight.

The weekend in its entirety was incredible and I experienced things I thought I would never get to do. Swimming in the Amazon, holding baby monkeys, fishing for pirhanas, and walking through the Belen market. While some parts of the trip are still being processed, I can say that it was one of my most favorite weekends ever and if you ever get the chance to go to Peru and to Iquitos–DO IT! You will not be disappointed!!

Headed to Cusco and Machu Picchu tomorrow! Prayers for safe travels would be great!

Flight over the andes!

Overlooking the Amazon early morning

Moto-taxis (typical transportation)

 

Zone of Belen. Trash piles right up to the water

Floating outhouses

My new little friend

Swimming in the Amazon!

Beautiful sunset

The pirhana i caught and ate for breakfast!

Juana: olives, rice, egg, chicken and spices