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When in Peru…

Time August 5th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Dear Lima,

Studying abroad could not have come at a better time for me. To say it lightly, I had been through a rough eight months in the United States before I left (see here). While my goal of living and studying in Lima not only provided me with something to look forward to as I struggled with endless hours of finger therapy, more importantly, the experience itself more than lived up to all of my expectations.

While in Lima, I took full advantage of any opportunity to explore Peru, which is without a doubt one of the most culturally, geographically and biologically diverse countries in the world. Having not traveled extensively before studying abroad, in Peru I was able to experience not only life in the desert along the Pacific Coast but also the Amazon Rainforest, Machu Picchu and Peru’s stunningly high Cordillera Blanca range of the Andes Mountains.

I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, but looking back I can affirm that I more than fulfilled my two biggest goals for the semester: to fully immerse myself in Peruvian culture and to improve my Spanish fluency. Though it’s impossible to “conocer” (get to know) all of Lima in only four and a half months, I did my best, however, finding somewhere new to explore with equally adventurous friends almost every weekend I was the city. As for my Spanish, or “castellano,” it undoubtedly became easier to communicate and understand others using only my second language. My ability to write essays and think in Spanish as opposed to English also improved. On the other hand, it’s now difficult to communicate in English sometimes, but I’m sure my English speaking and writing skills will come back with time and practice.

More important to me than these goals, however, were the people I met along the journey. While in Peru, I made many new friends for life. To my IFSA-Butler gringada, I can’t wait for our meet-ups stateside. I’m going to do my best to make sure they happen. To my friends still in Peru, you already all know this, but I want nothing more than to come back to Lima and visit again “muy pronto” (very soon).

Lima, I miss you more than I thought possible. I miss the freedom I had to do what I wanted when I wanted. I even miss the combis, which as a reliably cheap public transportation option made this independence possible. I want to explore again and to be busy constantly like I was in Peru. The two weeks since I’ve returned to the US are quickly moving up the ranks among the most difficult and frustrating times in my life. My usual energy is gone. Though I didn’t get sick when I arrived in Lima, readjusting to the United States has made my stomach upset. I’m tired all the time and bored to be back in the Twin Cities. I feel like I don’t have much of a life in Minnesota anymore. Most of best friends live elsewhere in the world, and I don’t even know where places are located in my hometown anymore, let alone what fun events are happening each day. I want to explore here, but some days, I feel like I have neither a means of transportation to nor anyone to go on adventures with me like I did so regularly in Lima.

I’m taking this week day by day as it is without a doubt a repeat of the two worst weeks of my life (ironically which were also the last two weeks of July last year). After a year of living with the pain and wishing constantly that my range of motion would improve and the swelling would go down, I am having surgery on my left index finger for the second time on the morning of July 31. This marks the start of another long stretch of seemingly constant and never-ending physical therapy and the inability to use my entire left arm for a to-be-determined extended period of time. I, however, am not the same person I was when I endured this horribleness last year. Lima, you made me stronger, more confident in myself and less afraid. If I can swim in the Amazon River, climb a mountain up to an elevation of more than 15,150 feet and jump off a cliff paragliding, I can do anything. I believe in myself, and I’m going to get through this (¡again!). And, afterwards, I am confident I will be an even stronger person. Literally, that is, because hopefully I will soon be able to use my left hand normally for the first time in more than a year.

So Lima, thank you for everything. Despite your craziness, I felt at home for the past four and a half months. Instead of using Peru as something to look forward to, I now treasure the memories from my time abroad, and in the same way, they push me forward each day because my time in Peru showed me all that I am capable of achieving. And, Lima, most importantly, nos vemos pronto en el futuro. I can’t wait to hop on a plane and come back very soon!

Un abrazote,

Sarita

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La sierra peruana: Arequipa y Huaraz

Time August 5th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

If you don’t already know how much I love to travel, you haven’t been paying very much attention to my blog. Sin duda (without a doubt), one of my favorite parts of studying abroad was my adventures around exploring the Peru that exists outside of Lima with my friends. During my last weeks abroad, we went on two equally exciting whirlwind adventures in Arequipa and Huaraz.

In mid-June, I skipped school for a week (again…) to spend time in the city of Arequipa and the surrounding areas. I think Arequipa, “la Ciudad Blanca” or the White City as it’s known, has my favorite plaza de armas in all of Peru. White stone columned two-buildings surround the plaza on three sides, and on the fourth side sits the city’s famous block-long cathedral that dates back to 1540. From Arequipa, we did a two-day trek through the 13,650-feet-deep Colca Canyon, which is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and ventured to Puno, a city of more than 100,000 people on the Peruvian shore of Lake Titicaca. The lake, which is at an elevation of more than 12,500 feet, is famous for being the highest navigable lake in the world.

My last Peruvian adventure this semester brought me and a group of IFSA-Butler friends to the city of Huaraz, located high in the Peruvian Andes. Looking back on the trip, it was yet another once-in-another lifetime opportunity. However, our lack of planning and the rampant altitude sickness, mostly just headaches, put a damper on the trip while we were there. I rode a horse up the side of a mountain for five hours to a “mirador” (overlook) of the Cordillera Blanca, the highest section of the Peruvian Andes where all the mountains are snow-capped. We did a six-hour trek up and over two mountains to Lago 69, a mountain lagoon famous for its bright blue, glacial ice melt water. Finally, our last stop was Chavín de Huántar, an archaeological site dating back to 1200 BCE that was home to one of the first Peruvian civilizations.

I used to travel and plan out my days with an abundance of lists and schedules, but I can’t do that anymore. While there’s certainly value to planning, I prefer to explore. We would have been a lot more prepared for our hike to Lago 69 had we planned instead of believing our hostel owner that it was a relatively flat trek (not a funny joke), but the memory of my friends and I figuring it out (¡and making it!) is worth so much more. When you embark on a perfectly planned trip, it doesn’t feel like an adventure, and you miss out on spontaneous stops that you can otherwise happen upon. These spur of the moment, not touristic parts of the excursion are often my favorite. They’re how you can best immerse yourself in the local culture, and they’re what I will always remember the most from all my travels in Peru.

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Birds and seals and penguins, oh my!

Time June 24th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’ve visited the jungle of Perú, seen the sierra and from May 16-19, I spent time in the southern half of Perú for the first time, exploring Nasca, Paracas, Ica and Huacachina.

A group of IFSA-Butler friends and I left Lima on a 3 a.m. bus and traveled until the early afternoon to Nasca. In Nasca, we took a 30-minute flight over the famous lines, really geoglyphs, in the desert. The lines are believed to have been created before the year 650 by members of the Nasca culture. Though there are many lines that range in complexity from basic geometric figures to complicated animal drawings, the flight took us over a dozen or so of the most famous, stylized lines. The 6-person plane made two complete circles around each figure that we saw so that the passengers on the “izquierda” and the “derecha” of the plane had the same opportunity to view it. By the end, almost all of my friends were feeling a little motion sick from the plane, but I loved each and every loop-de-loop.

The next day we took another early morning bus to the city of Paracas, located on the Pacific Ocean. We toured the Paracas National Reserve, home to many rock formations, species of wildlife (wild flamingos!) and beaches, including some with red sand.

Saturday was spent in Ica, where we toured a winery and pisco making facility called a bodega and got lots of free samples. One of the piscos they gave us was more than 40% alcohol – too strong for me! That afternoon we went to Huacachina, a desert oasis located just outside of Ica, for a roller coaster-like dune buggy ride and sand boarding. I tried sand boarding standing up, which is perhaps most similar to snowboarding downhill, and ended up falling over backwards covered in sand.

Saturday night was a bit of an adventure. Under the (now known to be false) impression that there was a cheap, frequent bus between Ica and Paracas that would take us back to our hostel, four of my friends and I decided to stay behind at the oasis for dinner. After eating, we learned there was no bus, and that we would need to take a cab to the bus station in Ica, take a bus ride to Pisco (a town that’s a half hour from Paracas) and convince a cab driver to take us to Paracas from there. Our final taxi ride was interesting. The driver apparently thought it was necessary to come to almost a complete halt and turn his 90s boy bands radio station way down every time there was a speed bump. Needless to say, after watching Final Destination 4 (a movie filled with crazy ways to die) on the bus ride, we were all a little freaked out the first time it happened. We made it to Paracas safe and sound a couple hours later only to find out the mayor’s raging birthday party was happening next to our hostel so no one could sleep.

Finally, on our last morning traveling, we took a boat tour of Las Islas Ballestas, off the coast of Paracas. Because of the abundance of birds, including Humboldt Penguins, and other wildlife, most notably fur seals and sea lions, some compare the islands to the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. While I’ve never been to the Galapagos (would love to go if anyone is interested…), it was an incredible feeling to be only a few meters from animals that I’ve only seen in zoos. Though the Amazonian sloths are still my favorite, I would love to bring a penguin back to the United States with me too.

After the boat tour, our whirlwind trip was over, and it was back to the neblina of Lima. This adventure made me even more eager to take advantage of all that Perú has to offer. There are so many places to see in this country, and I have so little time left to finish all the trips on my Perú bucket list. Time to start planning again!

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A Life on the Move

Time June 6th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Do you feel like a local living in Lima? I recently had this question posed to me in one of my IFSA-Butler university classes here in Perú. Without a doubt, the answer is a resounding no.

However, of my friends studying abroad with me in Lima, I think I am one of the best examples for someone who should feel like a local. One of the biggest surprises for me about study abroad has been the amount of effort it has taken to get my feet on the ground in Lima. I’ve learned that becoming a local in Lima, or any similar large city, is a process that takes time. Though it is impossible to get to know all of Lima in a semester (or even a full year), I have made every effort to explore the city. I’ve learned how to get use the crazy public transportation “system” to get around, and I know most of the major street names well enough that I feel like I won’t get lost. Occasionally, I’ve even been able to give accurate transportation directions to a Peruvian.

More importantly, after being here for three months, I feel like I am finally starting to build friendships with Peruvians that are based on more than novelty. Even though Spanish is not my first language, I am making friends with new people whose lives up to this point have been totally different from mine, and I one of my favorite parts of study abroad has been getting to know them. I’m proud of the friendships that I have built because I’ve really had to push myself out of my comfort zone to create them. Communication with many of my friends in the United States often revolves around inside jokes, sarcasm, slang and humor, and these are all among the most difficult parts of a second language to master. Despite this, I have new friends that I care about and respect, and I think they feel the same way about me.

In spite of all this, I still feel more akin to a tourist than a native Peruvian. This discrepancy is not because of my pale white skin that doesn’t tan, my blonde hair, my blue eyes and my inability to blend in on the street. Rather, it’s because I know there’s an end date to my time in Perú. Even though I’m finally starting to understand Lima and build relationships that are important to me, it is always in the back of my mind that it is all going to come to an end in six short weeks when I have to return to the United States. This affects my decision making and my judgment every day. Each important choice that I’ve made while in Perú has been decided only after considering that my time here is limited. I don’t think it’s possible to truly feel like a local when my Peruvian experience has been greatly impacted by my program end date.

It’s not just Lima though. I don’t think there’s anywhere on Earth where I would feel like a local right now. In the past year alone, I have lived in my hometown of Bloomington, Minn., on-campus in the Chicago suburbs and in Lima, and this fall, I will be moving yet again to Washington, D.C. for a journalism residency. Even though I love all of these places, I don’t have a true grasp on any of them anymore. With the exception of what my parents tell me and what I read on social media, I do not know what’s happening in my hometown or on campus at Northwestern. Even though I’ve lived in these places for years, I know nothing about the new restaurant that opened up last week or a major driving detour that’s happening this weekend, for example. As a 20-soemthing college student, my life right now is always on the move. Though I am enjoying seeing more of the world, I sometimes wonder if I ever will find exactly where I fit into everything. What will my permanent address be someday?

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Five Days in Cusco, the “Ombligo del Mundo”

Time May 30th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

About a month ago, IFSA-Butler took everyone in my study abroad program on a trip to Cusco, the “bellybutton of the world,” and from the moment our flight landed in the Andes, it was a highlight of my study abroad experience.  I’ve wanted to visit Machu Picchu and, by extension, Cusco for almost as long as I can remember, and, without a doubt, the trip surpassed my expectations.

Because of the dramatic change in altitude (Cusco is situated at about 3,400 meters or 11,200 feet above sea level), we had to spend our first couple hours in Cusco resting. We checked into our hostel, drank mate de coca, tea made from the raw leaves of the coca plant, and napped for an hour. After a light lunch, our guide picked us up, and we embarked on our tour of some of the ruins in the mountains just outside of Cusco. Our first stop was my favorite of the day: Sacsayhuaman. The site consists of a walled complex. Like many other sites, its enormous boulder walls are carved to fit together perfectly without any type of mortar. Following the Spanish conquest of Cusco in 1633, they destroyed much of the site, taking the boulders to use for the construction of their new buildings. We also visited Qenqo, a holy site where sacrifices are believed to have taken place, and Tambomachay, a series of Incan aqueducts, canals and waterfalls located in the mountains above Cusco.

The second day of the trip took us to Yanaoca, an indigenous community located above 14,000 feet in the Andes. We had breakfast, which included the best queso (cheese) and choclo (corn) I’ve ever eaten, with some of the locals, and we toured our guide’s house and garden to learn about his self-sustainable lifestyle. After climbing up to the peak that overlooked the town and lagoon and enjoying the breathtaking vista, we left for lunch in Yachay Wasi. Lunch was a buffet, and I had the opportunity to try cuy (guinea pig), which was on my Perú bucket list. It tasted okay and was a very sweet meat, but I couldn’t eat much of it on account of the many guinea pigs we had seen earlier that morning.

After lunch, we went to Casa Hogar de Nazareth, an orphanage for girls up to age 18. I had a lot of fun singing, dancing, playing volleyball, and, most of all, just talking with the girls. Like many of the kids I have had the opportunity to get to know while volunteering in Villa El Salvador (more about that later), these girls were some of the most positive and happy kids I have ever met even though many of them have had incredibly difficult lives. Even though we only spent a few hours at the orphanage, it was hard to say goodbye to many of the girls as we were leaving.

We spent the third day of the trip exploring el Valle Sagrado (the Sacred Valley). Our first stop was Aguana Cancha, an alpaca, vicuña and llama farm, located just outside of Cusco. We were able to feed the animals and (attempt to) pet them. Their fur and the products it is used to make really are very soft! Next, we briefly toured the ruins at Písac. These ruins sit atop a hill at the entrance to the valley and are well known for the many Inca agricultural terraces built around them. In Písac, we also went to a market, where I learned to barter. I picked up bartering pretty easily, and it’s come in handy more than a couple times since the trip. Our trip through el Valle Sagrado concluded with a tour of the ruins at Ollantaytambo. The urban complex likely served religious administrative, and, possibly, defense purposes, but I was most interested in its astrological history. Different carvings around the site align perfectly with the sun during the solstices. The day ended with the train ride to Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu.

The fourth day of the trip was a free day to explore the ruins in the santuario de Machu Picchu! We woke up at 4:30 a.m. or so in order to take one of the first buses up the mountain to Machu Picchu so that we could watch the sun rise from the ruins. Even the bus ride up the mountain was spectacular. The bus travels on a winding road up the mountain. The sanctuary does not come into view until the last turn, and when it does, it takes everyone’s breath away instantly. Machu Picchu’s giant walls and terraces stand 2,430 meters or about 8,000 feet above sea level in the middle of a tropical mountain forest. The site dates back to the 1400s, was the last stronghold of the Incas and remained hidden until Hiram Bingham rediscovered it in 1911. After exploring the main site, we climbed to the top of Huayna Picchu, the mountain that rises about 360 meters or 1,180 feet higher than Machu Picchu. Given the elevation-induced shortness of breath, our lack of water (visitors are only allowed to bring one bottle each into Machu Picchu) and the reoccurring pain in my ankle that started about halfway up the mountain, it was one of the most difficult physical feats I’ve ever accomplished. We made it to the top on “stairs” that for the most part consisted of piled and packed-down boulders with steep drop-offs on one side the whole way up. The view at the top of the mountain, however, is the closest I’ve ever felt to being on top of the world.

The last day of the trip was a free day in the city of Cusco. My friends and I wanted to spend the whole day walking so that we could see as much of the city as we could. We went to two markets and three museums along the way. My favorite museum was the Museo de Arte Popular, which displays award-winning art created in recent years by local artisans. The works all showed an immense appreciation for the Andean culture and history, and it was obvious that the artists had put a great amount of hard work, persistence and dedication into each piece. We also stopped at the Chocolate Museum, which was disappointing because the store was bigger than the “museum” poster and video collection, and the Museo Histórico Regional del Cusco (The Regional History Museum of Cusco). The food market was my favorite part of the day. I bought some of what I’ve decided was the world’s best chocolate because it was made in Perú and had coffee in it. Even after living in Perú for a couple months, I am still astonished at the lack of any sanitary and refrigeration regulations at many of the markets. They smell, flies swarm and products, like meat and dairy, sit out in the open.

The next day we boarded our flight and returned to Lima.  And, of course, upon our arrival, it was time to study for “parciales,” midterms. That’s always fun, especially when I had just skipped a week of classes. But, I can say that as far as I know, they all went well!

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Popping the ‘Gringo’ Bubble: My Visit to Jesús María

Time May 14th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I often fall into slumps where I feel like I’m not doing enough to experience as much of Lima as I can before my semester abroad ends in July. I repeatedly have found myself stuck in a figurative bubble that encompasses only San Isidro, the district where I live; Miraflores, where most of my IFSA-Butler friends live; and La Católica, my host university. The diversity of Lima (really, of Perú, in general) continues to astound me, but I feel like I miss out on getting to meet Peruvians from different walks of life because I spend too much time in these fairly tourist-friendly areas of Lima with my “gringo,” friendly slang for American, friends. It frustrates me greatly when I want to explore and my friends want to stick to what we know best or what they feel is the safest. If I’ve learned anything from my first two or so months in Perú, it is that sometimes the best adventures are those that are a little ways off the already well-beaten path.

Today, however, I was able to burst that infamous San Isidro-Miraflores-La Católica bubble a little bit as I had the opportunity to explore a different part of Lima: the district of Jesús María. Relative to Lima’s many other districts, Jesús María is fairly comparable to the parts of the city with which I am most familiar. However, it looks and feels very different. It is off the radar of most tourists and considerably less commercialized than both San Isidro and Miraflores.

This afternoon, two of my non-IFSA-Butler friends and I walked, ate and shopped our way through a few of the neighborhoods in Jesús María. My two favorite foods (read: desserts) were  picarones, a donut-like treat made primarily from fried squash and sweet potato batter, and mazamorra, a jelly made from Peruvian purple corn, pineapple and cinnamon, that’s served with arroz con leche, a sweet rice pudding. In a moment of silliness, my friends and I were convinced to take the 15-minute Tren Turístico (Tourist Train) ride through the streets of part of Jesús María. Though it was a “tourist” train, it was obvious that we were the only non-Peruvians on board. Instead of being filled with other Americans and Europeans as it likely would have been in San Isidro or Miraflores, the passengers today were all Peruvian families celebrating el Día de la Madre (Mother’s Day). We laughed about it at first, but it ended up being a fun way to see parts of the district that we otherwise would have missed.

I am, without a doubt, driven by adventure, and I have always had the desire to see and do everything I possibly can. Even in Lima, there are times when feel cooped up and isolated from the true side of Perú that I want to experience. That’s why mini-adventures and new experiences like today are important. I just have to make sure they happen more often so that the infamous bubble doesn’t start to form around me again. Pop!

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La Hora Peruana

Time April 18th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I am still struggling to grasp the concept of time in Perú. I have always been habitually prompt whereas Peruvians are notorious for being late. They even have a common phrase to describe the relaxed concept of time here: “la hora peruana.” In accordance with the “hora peruana,” university classes and meetings start 20 or 30 minutes late, people don’t show up at parties until an hour or two after their start time and when people say they’ll be ready “soon” or they’re “close-by,” I can never be quite sure what that means.

If a Peruvian tells me that something is happening “ahorita” or “ahora,” literally now, that means it will take place in 15 or 20 (or 30) minutes. An hour, “una hora,” means it’ll be another couple hours. If someone says “mañana,” or tomorrow, it’s never going to happen. I’ll concede that I am slowly beginning to embrace the concept of mañana though. I have homework that I’m putting off until mañana.

I think the relaxed system of time in Peru exists, at least in part, because it takes a long time to accomplish anything here. Simple tasks, such as running at errand at the bank, post office or grocery store, take at least three times longer than they would in the United States. I have found that sometimes the extra time is my fault as I like to venture down a new street instead of taking the shortcut or am often distracted by one of the many street vendors selling cookies. Other times, however, it’s the fault of the people I’m with as I am usually ready to go on time, and they are not. Lastly, the tardiness is also caused by a general disregard for efficiency in Perú. For example, at the fotocopiadoras on campus, where I purchase printed copies of my homework readings for classes, the workers do not delegate tasks, and it turns into a complete free for all.

I’m trying to embrace the hora peruana. I chose to study abroad in Perú because I wanted to immerse myself in a completely foreign culture, unlike what I was accustomed to in the United States. When I made that decision, however, I did not realize that something as simple as time would be one of the most straining aspects of Peruvian culture for me to understand. I have valued promptness for so many years that in Lima it feels like I must often make an effort to be late.  But now, as I sit here finishing this blog, I look at the clock on my laptop and realize I was supposed to meet a friend five minutes ago. It’s okay because I know she won’t be on time either. Es la hora peruana, and maybe I’m better at adapting to this change than I thought.

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The Tale of Sara and the SLOTH!

Time April 8th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The room is lit only by the soft glow of a kerosene lantern sitting in the corner. As I lay down in my bed after a long day, I realize event the sheets are damp from the intense humidity that fills the air.  I look up at the mosquito net that separates me from the outdoors, and I long to see the stars shimmering in the Amazonian sky but instead see only the underside of the cabin’s thatched roof. The screen extends down and makes up the top half of the wall, providing a perfect window to the jungle around me. The room is silent except for the constant humming of the swarming “bichos,” or bugs, outside and the occasional howl of a monkey from deep in the jungle. Moments later, I am suddenly grateful for the shelter the cabin offers from the wild as I hear the first crackle of thunder as a rain storm lets loose. The animal sounds are now overpowered by the large drops of water pounding into the roof and falling on to the ground outside. The once putrid smell of sweaty, wet, bug spray-covered clothing slowly mixes with the fresh smell that the water brings as I fall into a deep, relaxing slumber. It’s not possible to plan for all of the adventures that can be found in the Amazon Rainforest.

Without a doubt, traveling to Iquitos, a city of approximately 400,000 people, located in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, was one of the most unique experiences of my life thus far. After an early morning flight last Friday, we landed at the airport, were picked up by our guide and were taken on a brief tour of the city. One of our stops was a traditional food market where vendors sold and cooked their products along the street. There were many different local fruits, river fish, suri (grilled caterpillar) and caiman, a species of crocodile the lives in the rainforest’s freshwater lakes and rivers, for sale.

To reach the lodge, we had to take a boat down the Amazon River. The Amazon was far wider and deeper than I envisioned. Near Iquitos, parts of the river were more than one kilometer wide, and our guide said it was approximately 30 meters deep in some places. The river continues to grow in both depth and width as it crosses Brazil as well. After a long day of traveling, the best part of Friday was watching the sun set while we were on a boat floating in down the Amazon River.

We woke up early the morning of the second day in the jungle to try to spot the elusive Amazonian and pink and gray freshwater dolphins. We were successful and getting to see them in the wild was without a doubt another high point of the trip. On Saturday, because it is flood season in the Amazon, we canoed through parts of the flooded jungle to see the different flora and fauna. In the afternoon, we fished for piranhas and went swimming in the middle of the Amazon River. I was not worried about the depth, current or animals lurking in the water. Rather, my biggest concern was that I didn’t have my bathing suit or towel with me, but I decided to jump in with my clothes on because I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Sunday was the most memorable for me because it was the day of the sloth. We spent the morning at an animal sanctuary. I played with the monkeys, saw a macaw and toucan, held a small anaconda and a baby caiman, and, of course, made friends with an “oso perezoso,” the sloth.  For most of the year, the sanctuary is open land that the monkeys and birds can roam around, and they are fed in an open sheltered building. However, the sanctuary grounds were under water and most of the animals were concentrated in the small shelter, which made it easier to play with them.

Knowing full well that I will probably never have the opportunity to return, it was difficult to leave the city of Iquitos and the Amazon Rainforest behind. After three crazy days, I will admit, however, that at the same time it was comforting to return to Lima and have clean clothes, a cozy, dry bed and a hot shower waiting for me.

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Cruising in a Combi

Time March 25th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

That title should actually read stuck in traffic in a combi, which is much more typical. Despite being a massive metropolis, Lima’s public transportation “system,” system being a generous term here, looks, feels and sounds totally unique.

Every day innumerable beat-up, old microbuses, repurposed school buses and a few more modern buses that compare to those in the United States race throughout the city, abruptly jetting between lanes and braking hard at street corners to pick up and drop off passengers. The combis are manned by the driver, who will often start to pull away from the corner as people are still boarding or disembarking, and the “cobrador,” who is responsible for persuading new customers to board the bus. The cobrador also collects “tarifas,” or fares, from passengers and, in exchange, gives out little, thin paper tickets to prove a customer has paid.

Especially for newcomers, it can be confusing to figure out which combi to take. There are no schedules, but the combis run everday from about 5 a.m. until at least 2 a.m. in the morning. They tend to show up in clumps at “paraderos,” or stops, every few minutes. Combis can be differentiated by their paint colors, which denote certain routes but I have yet to memorize the correlation. More importantly, the names of the major streets the combi goes to are also posted on the side. As the combi approaches a stop with people waiting, the cobrador bellows out the names of these streets or major locations on the route, shouting for example “Todo Arequipa,” “Universitaria,” “Larcomar,” or “Todo Benavides.” Some cobradors also have signs with the destinations that they hold out the door or in an open window.

The system is most chaotic at rush “hour,” which runs from about 7:00 a.m. or so until about 9 p.m. on weekdays. Instead of traffic flowing smoothly, the roads turn into a parking lot with sometimes as many as eight lanes of traffic stopped with no place to go. Police officers control the major intersections as the stoplights cannot control so many cars effectively. When busy, which is most of the time, the cobradors work to fill the combi with as many people as possible. People jam into the aisle and hold onto the bars that run along the vehicle’s ceiling. When standing, it is difficult to balance as the driver favors speed, including weaving through traffic, over all else. When the combis are busy, it is especially important to guard one’s belongings because pick pocketing can be common. This includes the always in vogue trick of wearing a backpack on your front so you can see it at all times instead of your back.

Though there is great variation of size, cleanliness and quality, the biggest plus of the combi is that they are all cheap. One-way rides usually cost me between S/. 1.00 and S/. 1.50, which exchanges to between 40 and 60 cents.  Compared to the $2.25 it costs to ride the ‘L’ in Chicago, it’s a steal!

In addition to the combis, Lima has recently opened the Metropolitano, a rapid-transit bus system that runs down the middle of the Vía Expresa, one of the city’s major thoroughfares. The Metro, as we call it, is much faster than the combis as it has its own lanes and stations. However, the Metro only includes a few routes and does not reach all of the destinations I need to frequent each week.

The combis and Metro are far from perfect. Yet, they get me where I need to go, usually without incident. Yes, I was on a combi that broke down in the middle of the road once, but it was fine because another came along two minutes later. If nothing else, I’ve found a rollercoaster-like combi ride to be one of the simplest ways to get an extra jolt of energy to wake me up before class each morning. After all, it’s cheaper than a cup of good Peruvian coffee.

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Orientation Recap

Time March 18th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As of Friday afternoon, my program’s orientation session has come to a close. I have the weekend to relax and classes start Monday morning. These past two weeks have flown by as the orientation activities have kept me very busy. I hobble out of bed early every morning and go to sleep exhausted at night. The craziness, however, has all been worth it. I’m finally starting to feel more comfortable and confident in certain regions of Lima.

For me, orientation was most about becoming acclimated to Peruvian daily life. For example, in Perú, the largest meal of the day is lunch whereas dinner and breakfast are typically very small. For these lighter meals it is common to eat only a bowl of fresh fruit or a piece of bread from the closest “panadería,” a bread bakery. Another change is the “hora peruana,” or Peruvian time. In the United States, I always try to be very punctual, schedule out my day and expect events to start on time. However, in Perú, this is not the case. People arrive at their leisure, and it can be anticipated that nothing will begin on schedule. I am also slowly becoming more familiar with the city’s crazy public transportation system (which merits its own blog post later – stay tuned!).

One of the reasons I am always tired is that these past two weeks have been filled with much sightseeing around Lima. As its summer here, exploring the city’s Pacific beaches has quickly become one of my favorite pastimes. Most of the beaches are popular for surfing, but we managed to find one perfect for swimming and relaxing. With my program, I have also visited the historic center of Lima, which is home to the city’s remaining colonial buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries. Finally, we toured the “El Circuito Mágico del Aqua,” a massive park complex filled with different interactive fountains and music and light shows at night.

Though it often seems like I have already been able to explore a lot, Lima is divided up into approximately 40 municipalidades, or separate communities, that are part of the city as but operate with a significant degree of autonomy. To compare, if my hometown of Minneapolis was to absorb Saint Paul and all of the surrounding suburbs, allow them to maintain their own names and municipal governments but require that they subvert themselves to the higher rule of Minneapolis, this would parallel the city government structure of Lima. However, this comparison falls short when considering the scope of Lima. As of the 2010 census, the population of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area was less than 4 million people. Lima, however, is more than double this size and home to an estimated 9 million residents. It frustrates me that I have yet to experience, or even may not get to experience, a vast majority of the city. During these first two weeks, I have spent time in a few of the wealthier, seaside, touristic areas and at the private, gated university where I will be studying. It’s hard to get to know a city well when I have visited only a small proportion of it.

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First Impressions of Lima

Time March 11th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

When I left the United States a mere week ago, I had no idea of what to expect upon my arrival in Lima. I didn’t know any Peruvians, wasn’t familiar with many of the country’s customs and I had only tried a few Peruvian side dishes in the United States. Though I’m far from becoming an expert and have only experienced a few of Lima’s many neighborhoods, I feel I’ve had a successful (but exhausting) first week of orientation abroad.

Lima is a mix of the old and the new. One of the first things I noticed about the city is that there are tall, new, modern, glass buildings built next to much smaller, colorful, intricate apartments or single-family homes that often look as though they could be hundreds of years old. Though admittedly worse when people go to and return from work, the calles, or streets, and avenidas, or avenues, of Lima always seem to be congested with traffic in both directions. The drivers are crazy, (there’s no such thing as “Minnesota Nice” on the roads here), and there’s rampant jaywalking and constant honking throughout the city.

Also vastly different from my home state of Minnesota is the unrelenting heat of Peru. Though the country is known for its geographic and biological diversity, Lima is located in the desert. At present, during Lima’s summer season, it is hot, dry and dusty all day long. Even though I always carry my bloqueador, or sunscreen, around with me and reapply it regularly, my fair skin has still been burnt a little bit every day. The power of the sun here is so strong that along the Pacific public beach, there are signs warning passerby of the threat of skin cancer, complete with pictures of dangerous moles. Living in the desert also means that drinking water is not as accessible as in the United States. Restaurants do not provide complimentary water with each meal and the sinks in buildings have comparatively weak water pressure.

Finally, it’s difficult for me as a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned American to blend in here. Even though I can communicate sufficiently in Spanish (and always try to avoid speaking in English), people are drawn to me simply because I am different. Even if I’m not doing anything out of the ordinary, I still attract significant, unwanted attention on the street. I am starting to love the city and its people, and I’ve never felt threatened or unsafe by this. Oftentimes, however, it does make me uncomfortable.

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My Travel Bucket List

Time February 13th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

For many years, my travel bucket list, a tattered piece of wide-ruled loose leaf paper, was taped to the back of my bedroom door. Since I took an interest in geography in elementary school, it has been filled with an ever-growing list of places – currently 102 – that I hope to visit around the world. For most of the entries, which range from South Africa’s Kruger National Park to the Statue of Liberty to Tierra del Fuego to the Norwegian Fjords, I can’t remember what first sparked my interest to write them down using whichever pen, pencil or in one case whiteboard marker was most convenient. Yet the places on the list are always in the back of my mind; they are an articulated set of goals for my future journeys.

In spite of these desires, I have not had many opportunities to venture far from the Midwest and have never left the United States. I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis and did not travel via airplane until I was 19. Beginning this March, however, I will be embarking on a study abroad adventure in Lima, Peru. For me, every aspect of the trip – from something as simple as applying for a passport to realizing the sticker shock of purchasing a plane ticket to South America – is a new experience.

When I started my bucket list of places to visit many years ago, I listed Peru, namely Machu Picchu, first. At one point, the thought of finally traveling there was merely an opportunity to cross off a destination on my list. Now that I’ve begun communicating with my host family, thinking about packing and finally researching Peru, studying abroad in South America is about so much more. It is about the lessons I’ll learn at the local university, the Andean culture I’ll experience and the relationships I’ll build along the way. Most of all, however, it’s the start of a lifetime filled with travel and adventure around the world. I can’t wait!

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