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3 posts from October 2013

10/23/2013

Un, dos, tres, CHUPA! (And additional goodies)

I have been sitting here for about 20 minutes just staring at this blank page trying to think of something, really anything, to write about. I guess thats what a stressful work week will do to you. 

This week I had to give a 20 minute presentation (yes, in spanish) for my linguistics class. Basically I had to read this abnormally abstract article about a linguistics topic and then give an overview of the entire article. I know it doesn’t sound to complicated, but trust me when I say it was mentally draining. Now that it is done with I can look forward to my next presentation, JOY! 

This past weekend I got to experience two different cultures in one night. I attended the Peruvian version of Oktoberfest. Basically it was a night of German culture, with spanish being spoken, and Peruvian beer. I can’t complain. 

When I walked in it was a little overwhelming with the amount of people there were just walking around speaking spanish. But after a few cervezas, or chelas, I was feeling a little less overwhelmed.

As I sat there sipping on my abnormally large beer, I couldn’t help but feel super blessed to be sitting there with all of my new peruvian friends. Not only because they are awesome, but also because of them my spanish has improved un montón! Who would have ever thought that I could have so much in common with a group of people from across the world!

Ok I will stop being sentimental. I mean after all it was a festival of beer, how sentimental can that be? Throughout out the night there was a live band that played traditional German music and they also had times where dancers would go out and dance the traditional dances. After ever song the band would shout “UN, DOS, TRES, CHUPA!” which roughly translates to “ONE, TWO, THREE, DRINK!”

Also throughout the night there was an ongoing competition to see what table could build the largest pyramid with the beer cups they had completed. Below is a picture of me and my friend Mercedes with the largest pyramid that night as well as some other photos for your viewing pleasure.

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Now I’m sure you are all thinking that all I do down here is go to class three days a week and then party the rest of the time, but I PROMISE I am doing useful things with my time. One of the greatest thing this trip has offered me is getting to volunteer at a private school in Villa El Salvador which is a more impoverished location. I get to work with a 2nd grade class every Thursday at a private school which was set up to give education to the children of this community! This is such a rewarding experience. The students as well as the teachers are so amazing.

Every Thursday when I walk through that door the ENTIRE class runs up to me and gives me the biggest group hug. I’m talking so big that I almost fall over every morning, but how can that NOT put a smile on your face. Throughout the day I get to help them with various things, like math problems, questions on grammar (I have to say, this probably teaches me more than them), and how to use a dictionary. 

The most amazing part of this all is the environment that they are learning in. The teachers are so nurturing and loving towards them which in return makes the children so loving. I can’t tell you how many times they will come and just sit on my lap, or give me a huge hug, or play with my hair. It’s so awesome to experience all of this love. 

This semester another girl from my program and I took on the task of creating a website for the NGO which encompasses the school and their partnering after-school program. It has been a large task so far, but so awesome to get to have this opportunity. This website is being built to be an informational website so that people outside of Perú can see the amazing things they have accomplished. They are a relatively poor organization and have no outside recognition. We are hoping that with this website out there they will be able to find generous donors to help this wonderful organization grow! I will be sure to get you all the link once we have completed the website!

I can’t believe my time down here in Lima is dwindling down. I have just a little over 50 days before I return back home and boy do I have so much to do in those 52 days. Below is a little breakdown of everything.

Oct 30-Nov 1: Travel to Máncora
Nov 9-Nov 10: Travel to Lunahuaná
Nov 13: Presentation for Linguistics
Nov 13: PARENTS & GRANDPARENTS ARRIVE
Nov 14-Nov 16: Trip to Cusco (Machupicchu)
Nov 16-Nov 18: Trip to Arequipa
Dec 3: Final presentation and final exam
Dec 4: Final presentation and final exam
Dec 5-Dec 14: Free time to travel around South America
Dec 15: BACK TO HOME SWEET MN!

In all this time I will also be going to volunteering every Thursday as well as spending quality time with my host family. Wish me luck with this crazy, hectic, yet very amazing schedule!

All this being said, I should head to bed. I’ve got to be up early tomorrow to go to the school, and let me tell you I need all the sleep I can get. These kids wear me out!

Besos,
KM

10/16/2013

Ica, Paracas, and a whole lot of fun...

My blog posts begin too frequently with “Sorry I haven’t posted in awhile”… I am just so caught up in living my life as a Limeña. I am literally having the time of my life, but my time here is coming to an end quickly. As I sit here writing this I have exactly two months until I land back in home sweet Minnesota. Oh what a bittersweet thought that is! I really am missing home (less than a week or too ago. Sorry all!) but really this is such a priceless experience. My spanish has improved un montón and some people have even gone as far to say that I am fluent. What a feeling it is to hear that. (See Mom, your not spending all your money for nothing!) Before I even came to Perú I promised myself I would take full advantage of everything Perú has to offer. Incase you are geographically challenged, Perú is an EXTREMELY diverse country. It has coastline on the Pacific Ocean which means beaches, it has a desert which means sand, it has the Andes mountains, and it has the Amazon rainforest. I am hoping that I will be able to travel to a place situated in each of these locations. So far I have been to Máncora which is up north with beautiful beaches, Cusco which is in the Andes mountains, and just recently I traveled to Ica, Paracas, and Huacachina which is in the desert! It was definitely a crazy trip! Ill tell you all about it… Friday October 4th 4:30am: Wake up and get ready 5:45am: Arrive at Cruz del Sur bus station 6:30am: Bus departure with final destination being Ica 11:30am: Arrive at bus station at Ica. Purchase bus tickets for the night, guard our luggage and head out for a day of fun 12:00pm: First stop: Tacama Vineyards -Here we took a tour of the Tacama vineyard and bodega where we learned about their process of making wine and pisco. After about an hour long tour we finally got to the fun part: wine and pisco tasting! We tried about 4 different wines, and 3 different piscos. ¡Qué rico!

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2:30pm: Head to the second vineyard of the day. 
-Here we ate lunch at their restaurant. We then toured around the vineyard, however it was more of a museum type vineyard, not with actual production happening. After we tried all of their different piscos. The funny thing about this is the group told our guide it was my “birthday” so my little taster cup (the size of a small shot) was filled to the top with pisco everytime…We tried about 6 different piscos. Nevertheless it was such a fun time with our group!
4:30pm: Explore the Plaza de Armas in Ica
6:00pm: Arrive at bus station for our departure to Paracas
7:00pm: Depart Ica, final destination being Paracas
8:30pm: Arrive in Paracas, walk to find our hostel and get all settled in.
9:30-??: Hang out in the hostel bar, practice the slack rope on the beach, and have a great time

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Saturday October 5th
7:30am: Wake up call! (Such an early morning…Especially after staying out super late. But thats Perú life for ya)
8:00am: Tour to Las Islas Ballestas
-For this tour we took a large tour boat out to the middle of the ocean to see these islands. There are inhabited by many different species of animals, but are not capable of supporting human life. We saw animals such as sea lions, penguins, and various species of birds. I did get a little motion sick from all the waves but it was still awesome!

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10:00am: Return back from Las islas and eat (very quickly)
10:50am: Meet to head on our second tour of the day: The national park reserve
11:00am: Start second tour
-This tour included many different stops. We stopped at a museum to learn about the national park reserve, a lagoon, and various spots to look at the ocean. We even got to stop on a beach where we could go in if we chose to. It was such a beautiful tour and the national park reserve was HUGE! Amazing to see the diversity. It was a desert full of sand surrounding by a beautiful blue ocean!

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3:00pm: Eat lunch at a place located right by the lagoon
3:30pm: Return to the hostel, change into swimsuits and head out to the beach
5:00pm: NAPTIME (FINALLY!!!!)
7:00pm: Get ready for the night, head out to the hostel bar
9:00pm-??: Once again hang out at the hostel bar, eat the AMAZING pizza (literally the best pizza I have ever had in my life) and hang out and meet people from all around the world!

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Sunday October 6th
9:00am: WAKE UP CALL!
10:00am: Head out to the beach one last time before leaving
11:00am: Hop in the van for the hour long trip to Huacachina 
12:30pm: Arrive at Bananas Adventures Hostel, change and lay by the pool to get some sun! (Such a beautiful and warm day!)
2:00pm: Hop into our dune buggy and head out on our adventure!
-This was a 2 hour long tour where we went around all of the sand dunes in a buggy as well as sandboarded! Oh my was it exhilarating!! We were going so crazy fast up these HUGE sand dunes and then dropping down them! It was like a rollarcoaster. By the end of all of it we were all COVERED in sand. I unfortunately don’t have pictures on my camera because I didn’t want to drop it but there are some on my facebook :) 
4:00pm: Return back to hostel, shower, and head out to town for some ice cream!
6:30pm: Head to the bus station for our departure back to Lima
12:30pm: Arrive back in Lima and head back home

This whole trip was so amazing! We fit so much into just three days but we were all so exhausted after. The only bad thing was we didn’t have time to be tired because midterm exams started Wednesday so we had to be productive and study.

On Wednesday I had to give my first oral presentation in front of a class full of Peruvians. It was intimidating but I did it, and I now feel even more comfortable with my spanish speaking abilities. I have another midterm exam coming up on Tuesday and then another presentation the following Tuesday. October has been such a busy month for me between school work and traveling!

I feel like these last two months are going to absolutely fly by. I have so much planned, and so much I still want to do. Guess that means less sleep for me, but hey, who needs sleep anyways? 

Well that is all I have for you today. My hopes are to post later this week, maybe Wednesday sometime to talk about non travel things happening in my life so stay tuned for a post all about my volunteering and more about my day to day experiences here in Lima!

¡Hasta pronto!

 

10/11/2013

The Trip of a Lifetime

One weekend, 13 people, seven destinations, zero sleep, and countless memories. That was the Cusco and Machu Picchu trip in a nutshell.

Mission accomplished

 I'm late, I'm late, I'm late for a very important (blogging) date! My apologies for not writing on here for so long. I suppose I'm beginning to adjust to the "Peruvian time" here. Between school, a social life, and sleep, it has become increasingly difficult to share my stories. But, alas! Don't fear! I will continue writing to everyone (just somewhat more infrequently). Also, please note htat you are able to click any of the photos in order to see a larger version. Now, back to what you came here to read. Several weeks ago marked my group's big viaje (trip) to Cusco and Machu Picchu. It all began at 4 am on a Thursday morning.  To most, 4 am on a weekday entails sleeping to ensure one's sanity and well-being. Well, not for us! Dawn meant it was time to lug our bags across Lima's airport in preparation for our Cusco bound flight. With excitement in our eyes and passports in hand we made our way to the gate. After a brief, hour-long flight over a panorama of glacier-crested peaks and marbled desert landscape, we touched down in Cusco. We had been thrown from nearly sea level altitude to a whopping 11,200 feet which, as you would imagine, was quite disorienting. Fighting off illness, exhaustion, and our anticipation for the next few days ahead, we checked into our hotel that was only two blocks away from the historic centre of Cusco known as the Plaza de Armas.

Flying above the Andes

Glimpse of Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

That day we were advised to take it easy and act as though we were 80 year olds to stave off the dreaded soroche (altitude sickness). Only a few of us faced adverse effects from the drastic elevation change and thankfully I escaped its wrath unscathed. That being said, I definitely felt "off" and had a headache throughout the day due to the pressure change. Yet, it was nothing a nice warm cup of coca tea couldn't fix. Other than that, nothing got in the way of exploring what Cusco had to offer that day (other than the pushy street vendors, but that's to be expected). At first glance, it felt as though I had been transplanted into the heart of Tuscany. The European influence was evident in the passing architecture with colonial balconies and elaborate churches scattered about. The Plaza de Armas set in the heart of the city and was a hub for both social and cultural points of interest as well as a hub for all of our exploration in the city. For the majority of the day, we relaxed and enjoyed a break from the foggy skies of Lima's winter with some much needed vitamin D from some good ol' Andean sunshine.

Architecture example

Woman dressed in traditional attire in the main plaza

Exploring CuscoWe mustered up to energy to visit a market where I nabbed a multicolored scarf and which also featured a fun, little exchange. While shopping, a lady asked me if I was from Brazil and then, after revealing that I was estadounidense (American), complimented me on my castellano speaking. She may have just wanted me to buy the scarf I was holding, but I will pretend that it was an honest compliment so that I can continue feeling good about myself. Moving on, other highlights of the day included a visit to a little panaderia for some fresh-baked chocolate croissants, my first bite of alpaca meat (a bit too gamey for my liking), and hours of traipsing through the narrow, cobblestone streets of the historic capital of the Incan Empire.

 More architecture! Alpaca saltado

Alpaca saltado

The lobby of our hotel in Cusco

The lobby of our Cusco hotel

Enjoying some chocolate croissants in a quaint cafe

Enjoying some chocolate croissants in a quaint cafe

Part of the group sporting our Peruvian sweaters

Part of the group sporting our Peruvian sweaters

Plaza de Armas at night

Plaza de Armas at night

The next morning, rise and shine, my alarm clock wasn't set to 4 am, but it was still quite an early day. After scarfing down some delicious mini-plátano pancakes and a customized omelette (yum), we were on the bus and off to our next destination: Saqsaywaman. This next stop was only 20 minutes outside of Cusco's city center and yes, when you say its name out loud it does sound like "sexy woman."  These Incan ruins were settled on a knoll set high above the metropolis. You could look over the hill to see the entire cityscape settled in a valley met by the mountains and bordered by the turquoise sky. Saqsaywaman

Saqsaywaman

Llamas walking off into the distance

Cusco from above

Cusco from above

I won't bore you with too many historical details of the site, but, in short, it was remarkable. It was fascinating to see, up-close, the unrivaled Incan architectural craftsmanship. All the boulders were stationed perfectly between, on top of, or beneath other boulders. Imagine a life-sized tetris with several ton stones and you've got a picture of Incan construction. It is no wonder how these buildings have withstood centuries and centuries of earthquakes and wear and tear to remain standing for our enjoyment today.

Exploring Saqsaywaman

Exploring Saqsaywaman

The CIEE group

The CIEE group

I even made a new friend!

I even made a new friend!

En route to our next destination, we found ourselves weaving through the mountains of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Everything from snow-capped Andean peaks to verdant valleys below whizzed past my bus window. I think my friends were scared for my well-being when we first arrived to the llama farm, though. I am going to deem it the "llama farm" because I don't remember learning the real name's place and referring to it as the llama/alpaca/vicuña farm would be a little obnoxious. So, llama farm it is. Upon arrival, my hyperventilating could have been attributed to either A) the change in oxygen levels due to altitude, B) my asthma, or C) too much excitement in anticipation of petting some camelids! The latter is more likely. Driving through Valle Sagrado

Driving through Valle Sagrado

Feeding the llamas

Feeding the llamas

Essentially, the next hour was filled with feeding and stroking the backs of various four-legged critters. No fingers or eyes were lost in the making of this experience; however, a group member was spat on by a feisty llama while another friend of mine strayed in the path of an alpaca's sneeze. Hilarious to watch, but, as you could imagine, not too pleasant to experience firsthand. At this site, we also learned about the yarn making, dying, and weaving process of these camelid's coats as well as the different species within the species' family. It was the perfect mix between informative and fun. In fact, I'll refer to it has "infunormative"!

This alpaca was enjoying my company

This alpaca was enjoying my company

Happy llama

Happy llama

Yarn on yarn 

Forging on, we then found our way to Pisaq. This site was situated deeper into the Valle Sagrado (castellano term for the Sacred Valley of the Incas) and happened to be an incredible Incan ruins site situated on rocky mountain thousands of feet above a river valley. We hiked by terraces and even past a mountain filled with hundreds of holes (which we soon learned were actually tombs) all while chewing on some coca leaves to keep the soroche at bay. Then the real adventure began.  Terraces at Pisaq

Terraces at Pisaq

The tomb-filled mountain

The tomb-filled mountain

The picante crew began hiking along small trails that hugged cliffs, through a tunnel carved into the mountain's rocky ledge, and up and down stone staircases. I felt like I had been transplanted into the middle of an Indiana Jones flick and I absolutely loved it! We eventually found our way to the main ruins site which was absolutely breathtaking. I'll let the photos speak for themselves here. On the way back, to my dismay, I found that most of our trip was up-hill meaning that my lungs had to work in overdrive which was especially trying given that the oxygen in the air was already low due to the high altitude. Thankfully, forgetting my albuterol inhaler in my backpack that morning was not a fatal mistake. I survived and was definitely happy to climb back in my cozy bus. 

The ruins

The ruins

Another view of the ruins

The group

The group

Afterwards, we caught lunch in the modern city of Pisaq in the valley below. I got my first glimpse of cuy, the Peruvian delicacy of guinea pig. Unfortunately, the risk of soroche kept me from trying the fried little fellow at the time. Perhaps some time in the near future? Instead, I enjoyed a freshly-baked espinaca (spinach) empanada. Delicious it was and it made me happy as can be after enduring quite the hike in the ruins. Then, we were off!  

Cuy

Cuy

As the sun hung low over the horizon, we arrived in the town of Ollantaytambo. Once again, we hiked up ruins, but these ones happened to be constructed into the face of a mountain. As we ascended, we could look down upon the small town's rooftops and multicolored structures from high above. Dusk hung over us and as we reached a temple near the top and I could see the sun setting over an impressive, mountainous skyline. Here's a little history: Ollantaytambo was an important Incan site because, due to its conquest by the Spaniards, it essentially "saved" Machu Picchu. Yes, Ollanytaytambo served as a distraction from the lost city of the Incas. On our descent, it began to rain, but thankfully this didn't bring down our spirits at all. My group tends to make the best of everything which is wonderful when venturing through a foreign country.

Hiking in the ruins

Hiking in the ruins

The city of Ollantaytambo

The city of Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo ruins

Sunset

The small town of Ollantaytambo also held the train station to Aguas Calientes, the town closest to Machu Picchu. So, with luggage in hand, we rolled toward the train station later that evening. The whole setting made me feel as though I was in Disneyland. Perhaps on the Jungle Cruise, waiting in line for some grand attraction. Anticipation, once again, made me giddy with excitement and, soon enough, we were on the train riding through the darkness. We made it to Aguas Calientes later that night and grabbed some chifa before hitting the hay early in preparation for the big day ahead of us.

When I woke up the next morning, I was able to catch a glimpse of the city I had barely been able to see the evening before due to the night's darkness. What I saw was quite the surprise. We were surrounded by monolithic stone mountains flecked with trees that were hugged by misty clouds in the middle of the Peruvian jungle. On top of that, there was a waterfall and river that cut straight through the town filling the air with the calming sound of rushing water at all times. Was this a dream? Before that morning, I never knew that places such as this existed outside of human imagination and I was happy to learn that they indeed do. So, after a quick breakfast in the rooftop terrace with glass walls to ensure maximum viewing pleasure of the scenery, we were on a bus to our next and arguably most exciting destination: Machu Picchu. Good morning, Aguas Calientes!

Good morning, Aguas Calientes!

The bus' route consisted of constant switchbacks as we swerved up the steep face of a mountain. I feel strange to admit this, but I was almost moved to tears during this short trip while overlooking a surreal jungle valley where the sunlight's ray peered through clouds and birds glided between the dagger-like, verdure peaks. A dream of mine was in the process of coming true and I suppose I was a little overwhelmed. Soon enough, the recognizable Huayna Picchu (the large mountain one sees behind the typical Machu Picchu shot) came into view. Then ruins hung over the side of a slope as if they were slowly falling off the mountain's side. We were there.  

En route to Machu Picchu

En route to Machu Picchu

First, there was a small hike that's path was shrouded by the native vegetation. We made our way up the path along with tourists from all reaches of the globe. Then, as we emerged from the brush, Machu Picchu was there. Surreal would be one way to describe it. Then again, no words can really encompass all aspects of the experience. The ruins, mountains, and nearly every last detail mirrored every image I had in my mind beforehand. Yet, it was still somehow incredibly more impressive in person. So, I stood there in awe as my mind mentally wrote a "check" next to my bucket list's top entry as I stood above a place that some people only dream of traveling to see. I don't think I had never felt so fortunate than in that moment.

We made it!

Greetings from the Lost City of the Incas!

Greetings from the Lost City of the Incas!

After an obligatory group photo shoot, we were informed of the interesting history of this site by our wonderful guide. I was surprised to learn of the many misconceptions of the site, such as the fact that Hiram Bingham was technically made its scientific discovery but had not truly rediscovered the site. People had been living there for years, even centuries, before he happened upon the city in 1911. So, I suppose the lost city was never quite as "lost" as we had thought. We learned about and witnessed firsthand the unrivaled architectural feats of the Incas as we walked through various stone temples, residences, and more. Machu Picchu felt like an oasis in a jungle which is a strange analogy, but accurate in my mind nonetheless. I felt like any vestige of the world I knew seemed far, far away.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

The girls of the group (minus one)

The girls of the group (minus one)

Walking through the ruins 

It was no wonder why this place is deemed one of the modern wonders of the world. While leaving, I received my official "Machu Picchu" passport stamp and happily skipped away with both the proof on paper and my smile of the life-changing experience. In a daze, we hopped back onto the bus down to Aguas Calientes and spent the rest of the day in the jungle town shopping, relaxing, and enjoying our time.

Passport stamp - check!

Passport stamp - check!

For lunch, I had palta rellena (stuffed avocado) followed by lomo saltado which is a popular beef stir-fry dish in the country. The food here still hasn't become old for me, surprisingly enough. Then, later that afternoon, we were back on the train en route to Cusco.  

Palta rellena

Palta rellena

Lomo saltado

Lomo saltado

Venturing through Aguas Calientes

Over the mountain and through the jungle to Cusco we went! This trip was a bit longer at 4 hours, but this time around we were able to see the scenery outside of our train's windows.  The train tracks ran parallel to the Urumbamba River for nearly the entire trip which was delightful (I sound like a grandmother when I use that word). It was better than any movie I could've watched during the journey. Soon enough, we were back in Cusco utterly exhausted, but, as always, ready to explore!

With Cusco being the popular tourist destination it is, there happens to be nightlife galore, so we decided to go out and about the city. First stop was an Irish bar where I found America's Cup playing on television. For those who don't know, the Cup is a huge sailing competition which is held in my birthplace of San Francisco, California. It was strange to see my home on television in a place that seemed worlds away from there, but it was nice to watch as we enjoyed our refreshments and reflected on the amazing adventure we had just experienced. Then, naturally, it was discoteca time. We found a popular place and then proceeded dance the night away among Peruvians and tourists alike. 

Nighttime Cusco exploration

The following morning, we were on our Lima bound flight and back to the swing of things. I had enough adventure to last me a lifetime in a weekend's time, but, for some strange reason, adventure only leaves you craving more adventure. I wish you all would have been there on this trip of mine, so I decided to give you the next best thing: a little video that offers a glimpse into my trip of a lifetime! Please excuse the shaky footage and choppiness of it all. I was (obviously) a bit distracted during the filming portion, but tried my very best to allow you to virtually come along with me as I explored the beautiful country of Peru. Please enjoy! 

 

Until next time.

—MLM