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4 posts from November 2012


Sea Lions, Thanksgiving, and Procrastination

The time to procrastinate for assignments has come again (hence this blog post!). I also have a couple events to catch you all up on–mainly my trip to the Palomino Islands where I swam with humongous smelly sea lions and the Peruvian Thanksgiving I celebrated with my host family and my friends from my study abroad program.

When told at the beginning of the program that we were going to swim with sea lions at some point I was really excited. I pictured cute cuddly little seals that we would get to pet and that would happily splash all around us. We would take a yacht of sorts to the island, sunbathing the whole way, and the water would be warm (because by november it’ll be summer here right?). I could not have been more wrong. Here is how it really went down:

We got to the dock and got on a boat, not terrible, but no yacht and put on these neon orange life vests which didn’t fit and thus was basically choking me the entire ride. At this point the sun was not out and it was very chilly, so much so that we had to bundle up in big blankets and all huddle together to keep warm. Then our guide came around and offered us these pills which I took without asking any questions but later found out were for sea sickness. I assumed if the captain of the boat offered us pills we should probably take them. A couple girls in my group, however, decided they didn’t want to take random pills (in hindsight a good idea) but withink 15 minutes two of them were throwing up over the side of the boat with really really bad nausea. So that kind of put a damper on the trip there.

It didn’t get any better when we came within a few hundred yards of the island with all the sea lions. All six thousand of them. The smell was horrendous. It was so bad that the guides offered us cotton balls soaked in alcohol to kill our smell buds or something so it wasn’t so bad. The good thing was that my nose adjusted very quickly to the smell, perhaps due to my extensive time in smelly horse barns as a child, and I soon forgot about the stench. On a brighter note, as we got closer to the island, some of the sea lions began swimming next to our boat and they looked so cute diving through the water and calling out to each other. They sounded like a mix between a dog barking and someone moaning (sort of a strange mix, i’m aware). Our next step was to put on our wetsuits to prepare to swim. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to wear a wetsuit!!

After we all put our wetsuits on and the boat was anchored into place, they gave us different life vests and told us not to touch the sea lions, that if they wanted to, they would touch us (assuming we were being calm). I was terrified. Not only of the HUGE sea lions, but also of the open water, which turned out to feel like it should have been frozen. As soon as i jumped in the water my body froze it was so unbelievably cold. The only reason I was grateful for the cold water was because that is the reason there are no sharks or killer whales (so the guides told us). As a group we all swam out towards the island and all the sea lions. They told us the best way to experience it was to get about 10 feet away from the island where all the animals were getting in and out of the water and sit back and let our life vests hold us afloat while our feet floated out of the water. That way, if we were calm, a sea lion would surface and touch our feet with its nose before going back under water. The sea lions were very used to people.

It was a really neat experience although i was on edge the whole time because sometimes when the sea lions surfaced it was out of the blue and it scared me. They are also known for messing around with people and swimming right underneath you so it scares you and I was terrifed of that happening. They never touched my feet although some of the other students got to feel it. We just sat and floated along with the tide and watched all the animals. They were so much bigger than i expected and not quite as cute–their teeth are visible when you’re that close! After we finished swimming we saw some Peruvian penguins and the sun came out so we actually got to sunbathe a little on the boat ride back. It is neat getting to say i have swum with sea lions but I don’t know that I would do it again, too stressful for me!

The last week has been hard with Thanksgiving and seeing everyone back in the states getting to go home to spend break with their families and eat delicious food. So, the other students and I decided we would do our own Thanksgiving potluck and each person would bring a traditional-ish dish and we would celebrate with our own “family”. For lunch, before the dinner, my host family also made a special set of dishes that despite not being Thanksgiving-y, were so good. I came downstairs for lunch and they had put a nice tablecloth on the table, were serving off of the “fancy” dishes, had bought a special cola (that we never drink) and had put dried fruit out on the table. We ate grilled porkchops, pasta salad with ham, rice and for dessert had flan (which I have grown to absolutely love). It was all so good and I was even more excited for the potluck for dinner.

For our group dinner, people brought chickens, bread, wine, sweet potato casserole, salad, cheese, a stew and a chowder, mashed potatoes; the works. It was too delicious for words. My friend Pam and I actually ate our way through almost two whole rotisserie chickens which I am very proud of, although I could have rolled home I was so full. After we ate we sat and talked for hours and enjoyed each other’s company and it made spending the holiday away from my family easier. For dessert we had brownies, oreo truffles, fruitcake, regular cake, and pumpkin pie. It was basically the perfect night. The only thing that could have made it better was being with my family but I am so thankful for my peruvian family who continues to love me and make me feel at home. I am also very grateful for this experience and for my friends and everyone else in the states who continues to make me feel less far away from them!! Finally, the countdown has officially begun : T-23 days until I am back on US soil!

All bundled up on the ride over

So many sea lions

Special Thanksgiving lunch with my host family

The whole fam (including our dog Sacha)

Peruvian-style Thanksgiving with my friends




In the Land of Adventure Sports: Lunahuana

Last weekend, for one of my study abroad program’s organized trip, we escaped from the smoggy streets of Lima to the small town of Lunahuana, located 3 hours from the busy city. If you know me, then you know they had me at small town. They also had me at horsebackriding, mountains, rafting, 4-wheeling, and sun. Needless to say I was super pumped for the weekend getaway.

View of the valley around Lunahuana

We met early on Saturday morning where I started off my day with a toffee nut latte (I am turning into my mother!) from Starbucks because I have been craving real coffee here–still drinking fake instant nescafe unfortunately. After all of us crammed, literally, onto a bus we started the three hour drive to Lunahuana. We passed through lots of the city that I hadn’t seen and then along the coast for a good while. With Taylor Swift’s new album playing, my chacos on my feet, and mountains on the horizon, I was a happy girl. We arrived a little late after being stopped and inspected by the national police at the Lima city limits (still not sure why) and immediately got ready to go whitewater rafting. I was so excited! We got into groups of 6, learned the commands in spanish, and started off. It was great. So refreshing to be in the river with fresh water splashing all around and the sun beating down on us. “Beating down on you”, you say, “that doesn’t sound nice”. But when you have hardly seen the sun in 3 and a half months, you don’t care how burned you’re getting. The guides stopped our rafts and let us swim around in the water for a good while and it was the most relaxing thing. I wanted to stay there all day.


After rafting, we went to lunch where I had a seafood bisque that was really good and featured the local specialty of crawdads. It was really good but a lot of work peeling all the little crawdads and I longed for more meat. We then went with a tour guide to a site called Incahuasi which was, yep, you guessed it–MORE ruins! We learned about how they used to execute the prisoners in a public square and that there are Incan burial sites all around Lunahuana.

Incahuasi ruins

We then headed over to a beekeeping place where they specialize in honey and pollen which is really good for your health! They let us try all kinds of honey, from different regions and flavored with different flavors, such as Eucalyptus and Avocado. I just happened to like the good old fashioned kind. It also worked out perfectly that my host family had just run out of honey so I bought them a new jar and they were very appreciative. Plus now I can have honey on my fruit again!! Right across the street was our next stop, a winery and pisco making bodega. There we tried pure pisco and the house wine and then had the opportunity to buy some. While we were there there was a short rain shower and after it ended and the sun began to set there was a double rainbow!!! It was so beautiful and reminded me so much of being home in the mountains after a spring or summer rain shower. We then watched a beautiful sunset before heading off to our next activities.

One of the rainbows (the second one was too faint and didn’t show up on my camera unfortunately)

Beautiful sunset

We left the bodega and headed towards a suspended bridge that moved when we jumped on it and a haunted house which I did not enter. Not trying to be haunted by any ancient Incas. After enjoying a great dinner, we returned to the hotel and went to sleep. Our morning started off with a hike through the valley and we got to cross over this river on a contraption thing seen below. It took a good 30 minutes to get everyone across but the view over the river was beautiful. The rest of the hike was rather uneventful, a casual mummy and lots of human bones was about it. Ha! The area is full of cemeteries of the Incas like I said.

My friend Marg on the pulley contraption crossing the river

Breakfast was waiting for us when we returned to the hotel and we ate and then prepared to go horsebackriding. I felt bad on the little horses because they were pretty skinny (I guess not a lot of hay or grains grow in the area?) but somehow they made it up and down the hill we rode to. For most of the group it was their first or second time on a horse so it was pretty comical as they attempted to get used to being on a horse and not necessarily being in full control. But the ride went down without a hitch and we got to see another view of the luscious valley surrounding the river we rafted down.

My friends Becky and Mary and I on our little horses

Immediately after horsebackriding we went to lunch where I had grilled trout that was to die for and then left to go four-wheeling. It was my first time ever on a four wheeler and I was really excited even though they told us we wouldn’t be going very fast. We rode around on some back streets (my friend Vidya “crashed” twice due to a dud wheel) and I now want a 4 wheeler for Christmas. Just kidding mommy and daddy!!! But kind of not kidding. It was an adrenaline rush and the revving of the motor made it all the more exciting. Already looking forward to my next cruise!

Me on my four wheeler like an adventurous rebel

Four wheeling was our last activity in the wonderful town of Lunahuana and I was genuinely sad to be done with the weekend so quickly. It was the perfect getaway from the busy city streets and even though we did a lot in such a short amount of time just being in the outdoors with fresh air was refreshing and rejuvenating. In other good news, I didn’t fail my two tests last week, the sun has been coming out more in Lima, and (in bittersweet news) I come home a month from tomorrow. It seems so unreal!! Love and miss you all!



Ruins Ruins Ruins

Back from my hiatus! I am finally done with my latest round of tests and assignments and ready to catch up on my blogging. So much has happened and I am so far behind. Two weekends ago I went to Trujillo, Chiclayo, Lambayeque and Huanchaco (all in 3 days total). It was a ruins-filled trip but we saw lots of neat things. I travelled with two girls from France, three other girls from the US and a girl from Poland. Quite the international group and it was awesome! It forced us to really immerse ourselves and speak only spanish the whole weekend (something we’ve not been very strict about, especially when its all of us english speakers together). We started off with two days in Trujillo, known for its beautiful Plaza de Armas and local ruins– Huaca del Sol, Huaca de la Luna, Huaca del Arcoiris (rainbow) and Chan Chan. We took an overnight bus to Trujillo and arrived very early in the morning. Immediately we began looking for somewhere to eat, which proved more difficult than expected because it was only a little after 6am. But after drinking huge glasses of freshly blended fruit juice we were ready to go. We consulted our guide books (the best way to see a city on a time crunch) and began walking. There were so many beautiful houses and churches all throughout the small city so we made a point to visit each one of them. What I liked most about Trujillo were all the different colors of the houses/buildings. Red, blue, teal, yellow, green–you name it, and there were houses that color. It made all the pictures even prettier. We were approached by a man trying to sell tours (usually you’re told to ignore these types of people). But he offered us such a good price for a two day tour of all the local ruins that we couldn’t pass it up. Thank goodness he turned out to not be sketchy and our tours were great. We had an afternoon tour of Chan Chan and the Huaca del Arcoiris and a visit to Huanchaco all for 10 soles or the equivalent of 4 dollars!! It was quite the steal. After eating lunch in a restaurant with a folkloric dance show we headed to the ruins. At this point in my time in Peru, ruins are ruins. They’re all starting to look the same and i’ve begun mixing up what cultures lived where in what ruins and during what time period. I have listed to countless guided tours of different ancient cities and civilizations and while they’re interesting, I think i’m done with ruins. It also doesn’t help that Machu Picchu was the first major set of ruins I saw–you can’t really beat it. so after spending a few hours walking around pre-columbian ruins, we headed to Huanchaco, a coastal town known for its surfing and torotas (or small boats made out of reeds). We watched the sunset, stuck our feet in the water and I ate a papa rellena (potato filled with meat and onions) and all was well with the world. I also bought a chocolate off a styrofoam plate from a South African girl without thinking twice about it. And it was totally worth it. Not until later did it seem a little strange, but hey–I survived! That night we went to a volleyball tournament where one of my friend’s Peruvian boyfriend was playing on his University team. Their team lost but it was a neat experience because Peruvians sure do love their volleyball and so everyone was really into it, cowbells/foghorns and all. The next day we went to see more ruins which were cool as well but frankly looked almost the same as the ones we had seen before. We caught our bus to Chiclayo (after eating some delicious dessert, or two or three) and arrived in the beachy city of Chiclayo at around 11pm that night. A very nice man helped us get to our hostel after telling us he was amazed we had not been robbed and we settled in for a good night’s rest. The next morning we woke up and ate breakfast, perused around the plaza de armas and finally made our way to a local market called El Mercado de las Brujas (witch market). It was really neat while also super creepy and I definitely watched a man buy dead goat legs to take home to his family? I don’t know. It was strange. They were selling all kinds of “magical herbs” and “good luck potions” along with witchy alcohols and candles. Needless to say we didn’t stay long. We caught a bus to a small town called Lambayeque which is famous for its Museum of the Man from Sipan (yet another old civilization). But this museum was really interesting because when they found the mummy of the man, he had layers upon layers of necklaces of coral, gold, silver, copper and turquoise. There were big earrings, armor, nose plates and clay jars. So we saw all the artifacts they recovered from his grave and there was a recreation of the site which showed the sacrificed women, dogs, and llamas that died along with him. What made it even better was that it was supposed to cost us 15 soles but we just happened to be there on the first Sunday of the month in which all students get in free!! It was great! After we ate at a restaurant that had delicious food and I got a huge meal for 5 soles, or 2 dollars. Let me live in Peru forever (you can’t beat the prices here!). Lambayeque is known for a dessert called King Kong (not sure why) so we obviously had to try that out and it was amazing. Two cookies sandwiched around manjar blanco and honey. I could have eated 10 of them. We then headed to the beach to walk around before heading back to the bus station to catch our bus back to Lima. It was a quick but fun filled trip, although I would say I have reached my limit on Peruvian ruins haha. Not sure how many more I can see. I was excited for the upcoming weekend because my CIEE group was going to Lunahuana, an adventure sports village 3 hours outside Lima (this trip will be recounted in my next post!) But for now, pictures of Trujillo, Chiclayo, Huanchaco and Lambayeque!!

Huaca de la Luna

Chan Chan

Huanchaco beach town


Trujillo Plaza de Armas

Trujillo Plaza de Armas Cathedral

Peruvian volleyball game

Torotas boats

Witch market goods

Museum in Lambayeque

Some of the girls I traveled with!



Lima Fun

Last week deserves a blog post of its own, so I will rewind back in time for this post, and come back to the present for the next. Last weekend consisted of FINALLY visiting the center of the city (Centro de Lima) where all the beautiful colonial buildings are; somewhere I’ve wanted to go since I got here. Then, on Sunday, my CIEE program held a Peruvian Cooking workshop for which I was the first to click “attend” on Facebook because my world essentially revolves around food. Wednesday was Halloween–enough said for now. And Thursday was Día de los Muertos (or All Saints Day). There were lots of celebrations and a class field trip to a cemetery. Yes, a cemetery.

Before coming to study abroad here, all I really knew about  Peru, and Lima in particular was that in winter it is completely covered by fog, Machu Picchu is here, and that the Lima Centro is a huge plaza with buildings from colonial times that is incredibly beautiful. This pre-existing knowledge all came from my innumerable “google” searches of the city I would be headed to for a semester. You could potentially argue that Google Images is part of the reason I’m here in the first place, because the amazing views I saw in the photos (sometimes photo shopped/enhanced I now know after living here) convinced me that I couldn’t go anywhere else. So the fact that after almost 3 months of living here I hadn’t been to the Plaza de Armas was absurd. After venturing to the Cathedral with my host mom (found here) I wanted to see more and decided it was time for me to see the rest even if it meant going by myself (an idea i’m sure my mom loves). Thankfully another girl wanted to go so we made our way to the center and it was so great!

There are so many huge buildings, the Government Palace, Plaza Cathedral, Archbishop’s Palace of Lima, Municipal Palace, and the Palace of the Union. All were designed and built in the 16th and 17th centuries and the Plaza Mayor is where San Martin declared independence in 1821. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the palaces they were all so intricate and gigantic. The Government Palace takes up just over a city block on its own, has three guards standing at the front in their dress uniforms with swords and can only be accessed with special passes (which my host mom is trying to obtain for later!!!). After wondering around the plaza adn taking pictures of all the buildings, I stopped by a local bakery to buy bread for my family before heading back to my house. That night I went out and got dinner and frozen yogurt with a couple of the girls to round out a fantastic day. Little did i know, the next day would be even better.

With Sunday came the Taller de Cocina Peruana (Peruvian Cooking Workshop) which quickly became one of my favorite activities of the whole semester! We met at one of the cooking institutes here and we worked in a room with lots of different stations so we could all be preparing something different for each meal. Our instructor had bought all the groceries (so so many bags of FRESH food–no preservatives in Peruvian cooking!) and he delegated jobs to each of us. First we would prep the food and then assemble the different meals. We would be preparing the 5 most typical/delicious Peruvian foods and Chicha Morada which is the famous drink. The five plates were Causa (a potato base filled with a chicken/avocado/tomato/mayonnaise mixture), Tiradito de Pulpo (Octopus in an olive sauce), Ceviche (raw fish cooked in lime sauce), Aji de Gallina (chicken in a pecanish sauce) and Lomo Saltado (beef, pisco, peppers, tomatoes, onions and french fries). Just reliving it makes my mouth water!!

First I diced pineapple for the Chicha drink, then cut some tomatoes for Lomo Saltado and finally took control of the Aji de Gallina (which is tied for my favorite Peruvian dish with Lomo Saltado). I stirred the sauce and added all the necessary ingredients with a few other students. It was also necessary to keep testing the dish to make sure it was up to par. For some reason, i kept having to check, over and over and over again–how strange. As our instructor was showing us how to prepare and plate ceviche I kept running over to “make sure” the Aji de Gallina was still edible. Due to this, I had basically eaten a plate full before we even made our actual plates. Needless to say, after eating portions of all the other foods I was basically rolling around and walking was three times harder. Such a good and successful day.

Wednesday was Halloween, which is no where near the event it is in the US, especially in a college town. In fact, I almost wouldn’t have even known it was Halloween except for the couple of creepy men walking around as grim reapers and creepy people riding bikes with painted death faces. My friends and I opted out of the “Sexy Halloween” parties for many many obvious reasons and decided to go get desserts and bubble tea and hang out with some Peruvian friends. I ate a coconut brownie sandwiched around manjar blanco (basically caramelly sweetened condensed milk sugary goodness) and a Passionfruit bubble tea which was delicious and my first experience with tapioca. After staying out entirely too late, we were ready for our field trip to the cemetery.

The cemetery is on the very outskirts of Lima, about an hour’s ride from Miraflores, and is located in a poorer section of the city. The land is essentially unlivable and thus it has been turned into an enormous cemetery–we were told the second largest in South America. There are thousands upon thousands of graves of all different types, based on the money the family puts into decorating it. Some are just piles of rocks and others are ornate concrete “houses” with flowers and all sorts of decorations. The Day of the Dead is a celebration for the people; they come with food, beer, flowers and tools to fix up the graves and they spend the day playing music and reminiscing/celebrating the lives of their loved ones. It was a neat experience walking around and looking at all the markers, but also a little uncomfortable to be in a cemetery that big and at times feeling intrusive as a group of 15 Americans walked in and around all the grave sites. I’m definitely glad I got to be a part of it though; it was eye opening to be in a poorer section of the city, since we spend the majority of our time around a wealthy university and touristy Miraflores area.

I continue to experience many different things here in Peru, all of which are shaping the way I view the world and giving me an even greater love for the region. I’m excited for what is to come and possibly more South America in my future!! Also excited to know my absentee ballot was accepted and that I have officially voted for the first time! So exciting!!

Government Palace

I got to play with the octopus!

All the boys hard at work

Some of the finished dishes

Cooking with Pisco

Cemetery on Day of the Dead

Thousands of graves covering the mountains