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Back in the USA

Time December 18th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Peru | No Comments by

I finally landed back in the states yesterday, and it was definitely a surreal experience, but not as shocking or weird as I thought it might be. It definitely is good to be back home, enjoying the holiday season with my family and friends, but I already miss Perú and the incredible people I have met there. The scenery and climate is definitely different, it is far colder and less humid here and I have traded in the incredible landscapes of Perú for the tranquil, familiar cornfields of the Midwest. It’s been a little hard to adjust to not having incredibly fresh seafood available and everything being more expensive, but it still feels good to be home.

 

Definitely the oddest sensation so far has been hearing English spoken all around me as the primary language, I noticed it first in the airport and the feeling has only gotten more pronounced the longer I have been back. I keep doing a double-take whenever I see a sign written only in English and then remember, “oh yeah, I’m back in the states.”

 

Although it was definitely great to see all my friends, and I was fortunate that almost everyone got back into town from school on the same day as me so we were all able to get together, it was still incredibly strange relating my experiences to people that had not been in a Latin American country for the past four and a half months and I soon tired of trying to explain things in detail. It felt very bizarre to be sitting in my friend’s living room doing the same thing we’ve been doing since high school, almost as if I had not been out of the country for nearly half a year. Though I definitely was looking forward to being back and relaxing in the calm of the heartland for a couple weeks, it felt kind of boring that I was not about to go to a peña (traditional Peruvian folk music bar), or a salsa bar, or a trip deep into the Amazon. What can I say; now that I am back in the tranquil Midwest I am even starting to miss the chaos that is the traffic, noise, and bustle of Lima.

 

I have been trying to listen to more music in Spanish and continue reading Latin American literature in order to maintain my language abilities, and luckily I have been able to encourage many of my friends to start practicing Spanish again and we will hopefully be conversing as much in Spanish as in English during my time back in the states.

 

It’s still so crazy to me that I am already back and that nearly five months has elapsed since I landed in Perú, I learned so much it what seemed like an incredibly short time. I am so thankful to have had this incredibly experience and have learned so much. I can’t wait to return to Perú soon and see all of the wonderful friends I made there again.

 

 

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Last Day in Peru

Time December 14th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Peru | No Comments by

I just got back into Lima after a 9 day long final trip to the cities of Cajamarca, Chachapoyas, and my favourite Peruvian city: Chiclayo. Since this was my last voyage here until I return, which will hopefully be very soon, I tried to squeeze in as much as I could, and though all of these cities are close by bus according to Peruvian standards (which means it takes about twelve hours to get to each one from the other) each represents a different and important part of Perú: Cajamarca is in the sierra and is called “the Cuzco of the North” by some, Chachapoyas is considered part of the Amazon (though really it is on the border between the sierra and the selva), and Chiclayo of course represents the fantastic heritage of the northern coast.

Allow me to sing the praises of Chiclayo for a minute. This city is often skipped over by foreigners and gringos both European and American, which to me definitely adds a little to it’s appeal. It feels very authentic, and since foreign tourists are rare you will be granted an incredibly warm welcome. Further, Chiclayo is known as “La Capital de la Amistad” (Capital of Friendship), and this name is definitely expressed and deserved by the residents of this city, the fourth-largest in Perú. The food in Chiclayo is fabulous, highlights include arroz con pato (rice with duck), cabrito seco (a delicious goat dish), and of course ceviche, especially the variety with conchas negras, which are rumoured to have aphrodisiac effects. The area around Chiclayo contains a myriad of sites from the Moche and Lambayeque cultures, two of the most fascinating pre-Columbian civilisations in my opinion, and as there have not been nearly as much archaeological investigations there as in other parts of Perú new discoveries are constantly being made. I love Chiclayo and would love to share the wonders of this incredible city and its surrounding areas with anyone else who is interested. I know a couple very good guides and feel I am pretty familiar with the area, that said, if you are going to be in Perú and plan on travelling north shoot me an email at will.bacha@gmail.com, I would be happy to help you plan your trip.

I had a great time on this trip, and saw many things I didn’t think I was going to be able to see, including the famous cloud forest fortress of Kuelap outside of Chachapoyas, the abandoned colonial town of Zaña outside Chiclayo, and the archeological and geological wonders of Cumbemayo outside of Cajamarca. Chiclayo was the only place I had visited before, but as I had made friends with a guide during my previous stay there I was able to have some truly unique experiences, including a private tour of Zaña and the Huaca of Collud at sunset and a healing ceremony with a shaman on the edge of the sacred Cerro La Raya in Túcume, where the Peruvian Valley of the Pyramids is located. It was a fantastic trip and a great way to finish my study abroad experience here.

Now that I am back in Lima, I feel very weird to be honest. It’s especially strange that I will only be in the city I have lived in for the past five months more or less for about twelve hours before I return back to the United States for a couple of weeks and travel to study abroad in Spain. I really don’t know how I will feel tomorrow once I arrive home, but you will definitely find out in my final blog post that will be arriving tomorrow (or maybe the next day depending on how tired I am after my flight and what my family has planned for me when I get home).

 

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Moche Culture along the Northern Coast

Time November 17th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Peru | No Comments by

This past weekend I visited the cities of Chiclayo and Truijillo and their surrounding areas along the north Peruvian coast. Though these are two of the largest cities in Perú and have some of the most stunning and fascinating archeological sites I have seen during my time here, they are often skipped over by foreign tourists who spend their time visiting the southern half of the country.

I began my trip to Chiclayo by getting to the bus station only to be told that the bus was leaving at a different time and from a different station than was printed on my ticket. I guess that’s what happens when you book through on outside agency instead of with the bus company. Peru is quite easy to travel through by bus, the only problem is that the only companies that really maintain reliable websites to book through are Oltursa and Cruz del Sur, which are at the more expensive end of the spectrum and also are less punctual than some of the more budget-oriented lines in my opinion, although they are most likely the safest and most secure option.

Anyhow, a couple taxi rides and a sandwich later I was on the bus and promptly fell fast asleep until we arrived in Chiclayo. I really don’t know why the bus took so long, because we were supposed to arrive around midnight but didn’t get there until 8 in the morning, but I took this as a blessing because it meant that I didn’t have to pay for a hotel that night.

I took a short taxi ride from the bus station to the Parque Principal in the center of town and got a hotel recommendation from the driver, the Hotel Plazza was about a block from the square and I got a room with my own bathroom and hot water for 60 soles. The owners of the hotel were very helpful, and helped me get a tour for that morning, with an hour to kill I grabbed some coffee and breakfast before hopping on the van with a group of Peruvian tourists. Something that is interesting about the coffee served in a lot of Perú but especially the north is that when you order coffee you are presented with a cup of hot water and a decanter of concentrated coffee that you pour yourself into your mug. Interesting, but still good coffee.

First we visited Huaca Rajada, which is the burial site of the famous El Señor de Sipán. From there we headed to the town of Lambayeque, which although fairly small houses two of the most famous museums in Perú: El Museo Tumbes Reales de Sipán and El Museo Arqueologico Bruning. We only visited El Museo Tumbes Reales de Sipán, which houses the majority of the funerary artifacts found at Huaca Rajada, but I had the opportunity to visit El Museo Arqueologico Bruning the next day (This museum is often skipped by foreign tourists due to the fact that it transferred many of the highlights of its collection, such as the artifacts of El Señor de Sipán to El Museo Tumbes Reales de Sipán upon the newer museums opening, but I still found it to be fascinating and informative, with a wide variety of arqueological finds from the region displayed).

From there we stopped for lunch at a traditional restaurant where we sampled some of the famous cuisine of Chiclayo. I had arroz con pato (rice with duck), one of the most famous dishes of the region, as well as an algarrobina cocktail, which is kind of a pisco egg nog made with syrup from the algarrobina tree, which is prevalent in the desert north due to its long reaching roots and was used/still is used to construct many of the structures in the region.

After lunch we visited Túcume, known as the Peruvian Valley of the Pyramids. Having visited the Valley of the Pyramids in Egypt, I can personally attest that this site is no less fantastic, the pyramids are so large they almost could pass as mountains, and the majority of them are solid throughout, as they were used as platforms more so than buildings.

After returning to Chiclayo I stopped by the market before grabbing a bite to eat, I was especially interested to see the section of the market known as El Mercado de Brujos, where one can buy a variety of herbs, charms, amulets, and other esoteric products.

The next day I wanted to see Batán Grande, another archeological complex where the remains of El Señor de Sicán where found. I found a tour that was supposed to take me there, but after we visited El Museo Nacional Sicán everyone else in the group decided they’d rather go straight to Túcume than visit Batán Grande. Although a little disappointed in this change of plans, I took advantage of the opportunity to explore Túcume on my own, as I had already toured the site and museum the day before.

From there the tour went back to El Museo Tumbes Reales de Sipán, so I left the group there and visited the previously mentioned Museo Arqueologico Bruning before making my way back to town on my own.

That night I caught a bus from Chiclayo to Trujillo, where I met up with the Erasmus Student exchange group, with whom I would travel for the rest of my trip. I ended up beating them to our hostel in Huanchaco, a beachside fishing village right outside of Trujillo known for its distinctive reed fishing boats (Caballitos de Totora)  that have been in use since the time of the Moche culture that is actually a little closer to the famed arqueological site of Chan Chan than the center of Trujillo.

The group was going to visit the colonial center of Trujillo, but a tour guide friend in Chiclayo had told me that I definitely needed to visit El Brujo arqueological complex about 45 minutes outside of the city and see the the Huacas there as well as the famed Señora de Cao. So I of course arranged a tour and headed to Cao.

This was definitely one of the coolest archeological sites I have ever visited, the site was only recently excavated, even though it has continued to be revered and used by local shamans and curanderos for some time, and contains excellently preserved bas-relief murals, many with the original paint still intact. The museum on the site was also fantastic and very well organised.

Upon returning to Trujillo, I grabbed a bite to eat and visited some of Trujillo’s famed colonial houses before heading back to the hostel for dinner.

The next day was something I’d been looking forward to for some time: a tour of Huaca del Sol, Huaca de la Luna, and Chan Chan. We began the day by visiting Huaca del Sol y Huaca de la Luna, which contained even more stunning bas-relief murals with original paint. With every change in power a new level was constructed, thus one can see how the style of art and arquitecture developed as time progressed. These were also some of the most fascinating arquelogical sites I have ever visited as for me it is much easier to picture the way the structure was utilised and how life was back then if details such as original pigment remain intact.

After a quick lunch, we headed to Chan Chan, a sprawling adobe city and UNESCO World Heritage Site that was the capital of the Chimú culture. It was truly incredible to walk around the ancient patios and plazas and imagine all of the things that must have happened there during its time as the center of Chimú civilisation.

The next morning we had a surf lesson, and though I had tried surfing before and practically given up on it I surprised myself by getting up on the board and catching some waves; it was really a great time and I definitely want to try it again in the future.

We had the rest of the day to do whatever we wanted before our bus at 8, so I headed back to Chan Chan to have a look at the museum, which we had skipped the day before. I feel like even if you have a great guide it always is good to go to the museum and get some more context as well as see some artifacts, interpretations, and representations that help to explain what real was going on in a place at different times. Sadly, the Museo del Sitio Chan Chan was quite disappointing in comparison to the splendour of the adjacent site, but luckily with museum admission I could visit some of the other arqueological sites related to Chan Chan (visitors typically visit the grand Tschudi Palace complex, but the adobe city extends for kilometres into the city of Trujillo). From the museum I took a taxi to the Huaca Arco Iris, where I somehow managed to join a tour that took me back to the Tsuchudi Palace for another guided tour, and then took me back to Huanchaco, all for free (I still have no idea how I managed to do that).

Once in Huanchaco I sat down for some ceviche and música criolla (coastal Peruvian folk music) before heading to the beach to watch the gorgeous sunset. I then walked to the end of Huanchaco (the town literally just stops and there is nothing but desert and water ahead of you) before paying a quick visit to the Catedral de Huanchaco and returning to the hostel for the bus ride back to Lima.

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Afro-Perú!

Time November 10th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Peru | No Comments by

This past weekend I want on a trip with the rest of the students in my IFSA group to a small town called El Carmen, in the region of Chincha. This area is regarded as the cradle of afro-peruvian culture (even though the largest afro-peruvian community is in the north, a little outside of Piura) and is well-known for its distinctive cuisine, music and dance styles. It was incredibly fascinating to see a side of Perú that is terribly underrepresented but has been extremely influential in the development of Peruvian culture.

Travelling to cities outside of Lima by bus is always fascinating, as the changes in landscape happen directly in front of your eyes. Almost as soon as you get to the city limits, the environment changes to a crazy desert that almost makes you feel as if you are on the moon. As one travels through this area, the vegetation and sign of habitation get smaller and smaller, and eventually there is nothing but sandy dirt and mountains.

On our trip to El Carmen, my view consisted of this for the majority of the trip, but as we started to get farther south there began to be more signs of life and agriculture, as this is the reason that produces the majority of the grapes for Perú’s growing wine industry and famous pisco products.

El Carmen is incredibly small, but the central plaza is very pretty, filled with palm trees and watched over by a beautiful church. That said, except during a few well-known festivals there is not much going on in this town, I went into the center on both Friday and Saturday night and there was almost no one around, during the day the only people to be found were vendors selling wine and absurd souvenirs representing gross stereotypes of afro-peruvian culture and a few Peruvian tourists taking pictures with the ridiculously offensive woven rush statues painted dark black and with ludicrous exaggerated features.

The morning after our arrival we attended a talk concerning the development of afro-peruvian culture, which was incredibly fascinating, however the rest of the day was even better as we attended a workshop to learn how to play traditional percussion instruments of the region, a zapatero (a type of tap dancing) class, and another traditional dance class.

That night we went into town to watch a dance rehearsal for one of the upcoming festivals, and also were treated to a private concert in the house of the Ballumbrosio family, one of the most well-known musical dynasties in Perú.

The food in the region is superb, and afro-peruvian cuisine such as aji de gallina and sopa seca have become dominant in the food culture of most of the coastal areas of Perú. Most of these dishes originated due to the creativity that existed among the enslaved population during this era; they were forced to make due with whatever scraps they were given, and necessity combined with knowledge and memories from Africa combined to create a delicious blend of textures and flavours. In fact, apparently visitors from Africa to this region often comment on how similar the two styles of cooking are!

On our last day we visited an Incan huaca (monument) that incorporates walls from an earlier Ica-Chincha culture and demonstrated just how far and wide the empire of the Inca reached. However, it was very difficult for me to see that amount of vandalism and graffiti that had covered parts of the site; numerous examples of ancient pictographs were obscured by meaningless scrawls.

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Huancayo and Ayacucho

Time October 29th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Peru | No Comments by

During “feriado,” which is essentially a sort of labor day type break from school and work, I took advantage of my days off and travelled to the central sierra or highlands of Perú. I visited two very different cities and their surround areas, had a blast, and learned a lot about the different highland cultures of Perú.

I began my journey with a bus trip from Lima to Huancayo on the Oltursa line. I was a little late getting out the door seeing as I had not received the email I was promised from the bus company confirming my ticket order, and waited in line for over 30 minutes at the bank trying to get a receipt of my financial records before deciding to throw in the towel and take my chances. Traffic was horrible getting to the bus “impresa” due to the fact that the IMF summit was just beginning and the bus terminal is in San Isidro, the financial district, but thankfully almost nothing in Perú begins or leaves on time and I actually ended up having time to kill at the bus station.

I first went to ticketing and explained the situation to them, then was told I had to go to the information counter. I finally received my ticket and went to check my bag, thankfully all the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. About 45 minutes later, I finally got on the bus and began mentally preparing myself for the approximately nine hour journey. About thirty minutes outside of the city we were stuck in some sort of traffic for literally over an hour without moving, thankfully we had Mall Cop 2 to entertain us (please realise that was written with dripping sarcasm) and the included meal from the bus line (this was actually surprisingly scrumptious).

It’s crazy how the sierra begins right outside Lima, as soon as you exit the skyscrapers and barrios that dot the hillsides the mountains begin almost immediately. I spent the rest of the ride alternating between reading, sleeping, eating, and watching other atrocious sequels and some weird sort of Remember the Titans rip-off. Even though we were supposed to arrive in Huancayo at 9:00 PM or so, by the time we got there it was past 11, thankfully I had the address of a hostel and found a taxi pretty easily.

The hotel looked pleasant enough and at that point I was so road weary I was ready to plop down the first place I found. I went in paid the 40 soles for my room and passed out.

When I woke up I realised that the mattress I and been sleeping on was hard as a rock, and decided that I would test my luck and try to find another hotel. However, the hotel was connected with some tour company and I decided to take the archeological tour, which left me only enough time to drink a much needed cup of coca tea.

The tour was fantastic: my guide was incredibly knowledgable and showed as many of the important sites of the Wanka culture, as well as the first church in Perú and some other sites of historical importance. When we returned to Huancayo, I asked him for a hotel recommendation, and he said there was a good, cheap hotel right down the block. I decided to check it out, and it looked very luxurious for the price of 50 soles a night. Unfortunately, they were booked all weekend, a theme that was repeated to me at every hotel or hostel I tried for the next hour or so. I finally found one for 25 soles a night with a vacancy, but I literally felt like I was checking in to the Bates Motel. The old owner showed me to my room and there was someone else’s suitcase in it, so I asked, “De quién es la maleta? (Whose suitcase is that?). He told me “No te preocupes.” (Don’t worry about it). All I could think about was what sort of fate had befallen the owner of that suitcase, but it seemed that every hotel in town was booked full due to the occurrence of feriado and a religious festival that was occurring in Huancay that weekend, and I figured anywhere was better than being stuck with all my bags out in the street. Nonetheless, I left my bags there and immediately began my search for another hotel.

Thankfully, I found a very nice hostel with my own shower and hot water for 70 soles a night and immediately told the owner I would return promptly with my luggage. After some negotiating with the owner of the first hotel, I received all my money back and returned to the Hostel Orlak, which I highly recommend to anyone travelling to Huancayo.

After a good night’s sleep, I woke up bright and early to hike to Huaytapallana, a huge glacier a few hours outside of Huancayo. The hike was definitely strenuous, especially as I was suffering from a bit of an upset stomach, but the view and eventual ascent to the glacier was truly spectacular. My guide for the hike was also incredible, and we had great conversations throughout the duration.

I had the day in Huancayo before my bus to Ayacucho at 8:30 so I decided to take a tour of the city and its fabulous parks devoted to Wanka identity. I was too late for the group tour, but I managed to secure a good price for a private tour. First we went to Torre Torre, an outcropping or unusual rock formations right outside of the city caused by natural erosion before going to the Cerro de Libertad for the marvellous view of the city. Then we went on a tour of the Parque de La Identidad Wanka and the Parque de Los Sombreros; both incredibly interesting parks dedicated to Huancayo’s indigenous heritage. From there I took a combi (van outfitted as bus) to Cochas to see the Parque de Los Mates, which was also incredibly beautiful and intriguing. Mates are the handicrafts that Huancayo is most known for, and are intricately carved gourds.

I still had a little time to kill, so I took a taxi to Concepción to see the Virgen de Concepción, a giant statue of the Virgin Mary that you can climb inside to the top of her crown for a view of the whole valley.

After some hassle finding a taxi back to Huancayo, I made it to the bus station and boarded the bus, which surprisingly left more or less on time. I arrived in Ayacucho early that morning, and after asking a few people out and about I finally found the hotel I was looking for.

It’s a shame that Ayacucho was cut off from the rest of Perú and the world for so long, as it is truly a gem of a city. It has the highest number of intact colonial churches of any city in Perú, and they are all truly awe-inspiring, complete with regal, towering, gold-plated altars and spiritually powerful depictions of Jesus of Nazareth, the patron of Ayacucho. I spent my first day touring all the churches, and the second day visiting Quinua, a town regarded as the cradle of Peruvian artesenia and renowned for its retablos, colourfully painted boxes that open up to reveal beautiful sculpture scenes inside.

During my visit to Quinua, a local festival was occurring, and I and a wonderful time dancing, eating, and listening to huayno (Highland Folk Music) and chicha (a mix of psych rock, surf, cumbia, and huayno). On my last day in Ayacucho, I had planned to do a hike and horseback ride, but my plans were derailed due to a race car rally that was occurring on the main road. Seeing as I was already stuck there until the race was over, I figured I might as well watch the race, which was truly a surreal experience. I made some good friends and travelled back to Ayacucho with them in time to catch my bus back to Lima.

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The Beauty of Iquitos and The Northern Selva

Time October 28th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Peru | No Comments by

I recently had one of the most amazing trips of my life when I travelled to Iquitos and stayed at a lodge in the Northern Peruvian Rainforest, or selva. I had been to the Amazon rainforest before with my family, but this experience was completely different, and one I will never forget.

I arrived in Iquitos on Tuesday afternoon, and hopped aboard a mototaxi outside the airport to get to the Plaza de Armas. One of the first things you notice about Iquitos is there are almost no cars: all transportation is on a motorcycle or motokar, which is essentialy a motorcycle with the buggy part of a horse and buggy superimposed on the back. This is most likely because Iquitos is the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road; to get there one must take a plane or approximately ten day long boat ride.

The driver was kind enough to drop me off right at the door of a hotel he recommended a block or so away from both the Plaza de Armas and the Malecón (the boulevard along the river). I checked it out, and stayed there for the next two nights: it was clean, cheap, I had my own bathroom and the decor and vibe was excellent.

After checking into my room, I went out to explore. The Plaza de Armas is quite different in appearance than those in the majority of towns and cities in Perú: instead of having an old colonial style cathedral left over from the days of the Spanish invasion it has a more modern, yet no less impressive cathedral built in the neo-gothic style; as well as other interesting looking buildings such as the Casa de Fierro (iron house) rumoured to have been designed by Gustave Eiffel. From there I walked a block or so over to the Malecón, starving and looking for a bite to eat.

The first restaurant I saw was called the Yellow Rose of Texas, and though I usually try and find authentic dining experiences when travelling the menu seemed to have a good mix of Amazonian cuisine and typical bar food and I was famished. I walked up the stairs and ordered some yucca fritters and an alligator (lagarto) sandwich, which were both excellent. I later met the owner, who I later learned was the “controversial and Texan former head of the local tourism office.”

I walked along Malecón for a little more before heading to a spot to try some of the famed aphrodisiac drinks of the Peruvian Amazon. They were quite interesting tasting, and are also rumoured to have a host of other health benefits, but I can’t speak for these supposed erotic properties.

The next day, when asking for directions to the bank, I met a resident of Belén, one the locales of Iquitos, that offered to show me around his neighbourhood, often called “The Venice of the Amazon.”

Belén gets its name because during the rainy season its streets flood with river water and the area becomes a network of canals. But this is where similarities with the famed city of Italy end, for though charming in completely different ways Belén has none of the regal splendour and doge’s palaces of its European counterpart. This area is incredibly poor, but is still magical: the people are incredibly friendly and the market is one of the best and most intriguing in all of Latin America. Walking through the market, I tried all sorts of incredible things: barbecued suri (delicious juicy jungle grubs), hardboiled turtle eggs, more crazy aphrodisiac concoctions, camu camu (a remarkably interesting tasting jungle fruit), and a host of others. I also took a canoe ride along the river and passed floating discotecas, floating grifos (gas stations), and unfortunately, huge mountains of trash. Iquitos and the district of Belén in particular has quite a problem with littering, and many people throw trash on the ground with impunity.

After my adventure in Belén, I returned to my hotel, I had sweat through my shirt and needed to change, as well as take a break from the beating sun. That’s another thing I forgot to mention about Iquitos: I have never sweat so much in my life, I constantly felt as if I had taken a bath fully clothed. Afterwards I went out and ate a juane (a sort of bijao leaf tamale) before exploring a bit and calling it a night, I was too sweaty to carry on.

The next morning I had a little time before I had to meet my friends at the airport to journey into the Amazon, so I went to the Museum of Indigenous Culture, which was one of the most fascinating and informative museums I have ever visited. There were in depth presentations on a variety of Amazonian tribes with highly detailed explanations, as well as specific examples of the diverse quantity of hunting instruments and weapons of war.

After meeting my friends at the airport, we headed two hours of so down the river with our incredible guide Michael before arriving at the Ayahuasca Amazon Adventure Lodge. The owner of the lodge, Luis, also was one of our guides during the week and was one of the most friendly, intelligent, and incredible people I have ever met. The food at the lodge was superb, Amazonian cuisine is one of the best kinds of food I have ever tasted and Luis’ wife Maria was a superb cook.

There was no electricity at the lodge, but I thoroughly enjoyed the break from technology and especially the chaos of Lima. We spent our days trekking through the jungle, swimming with river dolphins, fishing for piranhas, and playing with monkeys and our nights swinging in hammocks and listening to the heavenly music of the jungle: the birds singing, frogs ribbeting, insects chirping. It was so incredibly peaceful and relaxing I almost couldn’t leave.

I can’t wait to return to the selva, use termites as insect repellent, see all my wonderful friends, and eat more worms.

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Caral, Ceviche Sundays in Chorillos, and Chosica

Time September 30th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Peru | No Comments by

I recently had the opportunity to visit Caral,the oldest center of civilisation in the Americas. This was an archeological site that I had never visited before, and I was very excited to see this fantastic example of ancient Caral culture.

We took a four hour bus ride from Lima, and though it was quite long, it was fascinating to watch the landscape change before my eyes as we drove along the ocean into the desert.

Caral is literally in the desert in the middle of nowhere, but it overlooks a beautiful, luscious valley. The area is not highly populated, and because if this it is easy to imagine people walking along the same paths as you are thousands of years ago.

The tour was informative and the guide was very knowledgable and informed, but I wish we had had more time to explore on our own and digest the majesty and splendour of the site, picturing it as it was in years past.

Afterwards we enjoyed lunch in a hotel where I ate some excellent Pachamanca (Peruvian barbecue on hot stones) and returned to Lima.

The following day, I met up with some friends from the program in order to visit Chorillos (a district of Lima famous for it’s lagoons and beaches) in order to have some ceviche for lunch. On the combi we received some recommendations from a friendly man, but these places appeared too fancy and we were looking for an authentic experience so we walked down to the beach where there is a fish market and a strip of multiple different cevicherias.

The owner of every restaurant is yelling and advertising their dishes, and eventually we decided on one near the end of the strip that seemed like it would be good.

One friend ordered Ceviche Mixto, my other friend ordered Ceviche de Corvina (Sea Bass), and I ordered Ceviche con Corvina y Pulpo (octopus). For an appetiser we ordered Chicharrón Calamar, fried squid that is essentially the same as calamari.

The food was excellent and among the freshest I have ever tasted given that we were literally right on the ocean, but when we got the check we realised there was a problem.

We had been charged way more than the prices indicated on the menu and I could not make head or tail of the handwriting on the check the waiter handed us.

Thankfully we all speak Spanish or we might have gotten cheated quite badly. First he said that the pulpo was more expensive because there was a ban on octopus. This is obviously not true as almost every cevicheria in Lima sells pulpo to the extent that nearly every restauranteur in the city would be in big trouble if this was the case. Then we realised that he had brought us the family sized portion of chicharrón, even though we had clearly told him multiple times that we only wanted the regular size. Even after all of this, his math didn’t add up and he was still trying to charge us forty soles more then it would’ve been even if everything he was saying was true. We were able to talk him down to a more reasonable price, but we still ended up paying significantly more than we should have.

This spoiled the lunch a little bit, but it was still delicious and not nearly as expensive as it would have been in the states, so I couldn’t really complain. I spent the rest of the afternoon riding bikes along the Malecón (a strip of parks that border the beach) with one of my friends and her dog. All in all a very relaxing way to spend a Sunday.

As you may have heard, there was a lunar eclipse with a supermoon on Sunday, and I definitely wanted to see it, something that would not be possible with all the clouds in Lima. So I journeyed to Chosica, a mountain town outside of Lima, in order to see the eclipse and get out of the city. You can take a combi all the way to Chosica, for a little more than the equivalent of a dollar, but it can take as long as two and half hours due to traffic and the amount of times the combis stop to pick up more passengers. There are tourist buses that are far more comfortable and take a more direct route, but we went for the budget option.

Once we arrived next to the Plaza in the center of town, we got off the combi and began looking for a hostel to spend the night. Chosica is incredibly cheap, you could get a room in a somewhat sketchy hostel for less than 21 soles (about 6 bucks), but we decided to pay the extra thirty soles to stay in a charming hospedaje (sort of an upscale hostel) behind the statue of Cristo Blanco, one of the sites most associated with Chosica. There was a fair going on in the Plaza, and we walked around eating anticuchos (sort of Peruvian shish kebabs) and drinking emoliente (a delicious sort of herbal tea with a host of health benefits). Then we ate at a restaurant near our hotel, where I feasted on chicharrón de pollo and sopa criolla (essentially beef and noodle soup).

We had been a little concerned that it would still be too cloudy to see the moon, but as soon as we walked out of the restaurant the clouds parted right as the eclipse was beginning. We went to the plaza where an old astronomer was charging 2 soles por a look through his telescope, and watched the eclipse with some friends we made while drinking more emolientes. It was truly a stunning beautiful and spiritual experience, as I had never seen an eclipse before and this one was absolutely awe-inspiring due to the fact that is was a super moon and a blood moon. After the end of the eclipse, we stayed in the plaza talking with our friends before heading back to the hotel. We exchanged contact info with our new amigos and I hope to come back to Chosica to hike in the surrounding are and see them again.

My friend returned to Lima early in the morning because she had class and homework, but I stayed behind to see more of the town. I visited all of the local markets, drank more emoliente, and encountered one of my friends from the night before walking his dog. He suggested a walk along the river which I took before I visited the local soccer stadium. After eating an ice cream in the square, it was time to return to Lima, as Idid have a class at three I needed to make it to.

The ride back definitely took a lot longer and was a lot less comfortable than the journey there, but I still made it back to central Lima in time to take the Metropolitano back to Miraflores and take another combi to Pueblo Libre before class began.

I can’t wait to return and visit San Pedro, a smaller town higher up in the mountains that is rumoured to have the best Pachamanca in the world, and Markahuassi, a plateau in the mountains with rock formations that resemble human faces and animals and also Pre-Colombian burial sites.

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Cusco and the Sierra

Time September 22nd, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Peru | No Comments by

I recently had the opportunity to visit Cusco, Machu Picchu, and a host of other amazing Inca sites in the Sacred Valley. Though I had travelled to the part of Perú with my family previously, it was undoubtedly a different experience this time seeing as I got to now the other people in the program better, see different ruins with a different guide, and experience other parts of the Sierra such as a farming community in Chahuay and a home for girls at risk run by the Catholic Church.

Almost immediately upon our arrival in Cusco many people in our group were suffering from altitude sickness, which unfortunately would continue to affect many of my peers throughout the trip. However, these bouts of altitude sickness rarely lasted long, and almost everybody was feeling well enough to begin seeing some of the historical section of Cusco after lunch.

That night I went to a jazz café and listened to a group that played in a style they called “Jazz en Quechua,” which was an interesting mix of bossa nova, latin jazz, and traditional música andina with lyrics sung in Quechua, the native language of the majority of Indigenous people living in the Cusco region.

Our second night in Cusco a few friends and I visited the famous club Ukuku’s, which is world-renowned as the best place to hear live music in Cusco.

The trip continued with visits to the many historic and sacred Inca sites throughout the region. Of these my favourite was Pisaq due to the fact that it was not very crowded during our visit, and this combined with the otherworldly flute music that was reverberating off of the ancient terraces as a solitary musician played combined to create an atmosphere of mystical serenity. Further, it had been threatening to rain all day and though it drizzled for a little, when the clouds finally cleared the sun was brighter than ever! A few friends and I were taking our time and lagging behind the group a little bit to truly appreciate the majesty of the ruins, and we were blessed with not only one but two of the most vibrant, beautiful rainbows I have ever seen shimmering one immediately above the other. Qenqo was a site I had not visited before, and our twilight journey through its walls was superb and a little spooky; seeing the sacrificial stone as night closed in around us was an eerie and unforgettable experience.

The ruins of Ollantaytambo are always fantastic due to the great view the provide of the town at their base and the sheer scale of the terraced walls. Though I wish we had been able to spend the night there, as it is a very interesting and charming little town with many buildings using original Incan foundations, we had to make our way to Aguascalientes, the village that is the starting point for the journey up to Machu Picchu.

We rose quite early in the morning to beat the hordes of tourists to Machu Picchu but even though we woke up at four in the morning it would seem that everyone else had the same idea so there was still a bit of a line. Machu Picchu is truly phenomenal, there is nothing in the world that can compare to it, and it is without a doubt impossible to describe the spiritual beauty of the place in words so all I’ll say is that everyone should definitely make the trip to the Andes and view it for themselves at least once in their lives.

 

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Combis, Cajons, and Chicha oh my!!!

Time August 31st, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I can’t believe that I’ve been in Perú for nearly a month now, but like they say time flies when you’re having fun! I’ve been so busy with my classes, exploring Lima, and taking every opportunity to improve my Spanish that I rarely have time to think about anything else, except when I’m enduring the long commute to University in a combo or micro.

These small bus/van vehicles are the heart and soul of Lima’s chaotic system of transportation, and though they may be small, cramped, and confusing I am learning to love them. I really have no choice, seeing as I have to spend a significant amount of time inside of them throughout the week on my way to school every day.

Buses in the United States tend to follow a schedule, maintain uniform appearance, and other forms of consistency. This is not the case here. Every combi looks different, is most likely owned by a different company, is a different size, and you never know how long the ride is going to take. Sometimes its 25 minutes, sometimes it’s and hour and 25 minutes. There is no apparent algorithm to deduce the probable length of your journey either, it doesn’t seem as if the conventional rules of rush hour  and these types of things apply.

That said, every combi is playing a different blend of enticing music; at times exotic, in some instances familiar. You’re most likely to hear chicha or some Peruvian cumbia, but reggaeton is also quite popular, and I’ve even heard “Gold Records from America” on the radio on several occasions. Let me tell you, listening to Yes, ABBA, and Neil Diamond while taking a crazy ride on some hybrid of a city bus and Volkswagen hippie van is quite the experience.

The cajon is an instrument that originated in the Afro-Peruvian communities of Perú. It’s exact origins are a mystery, but whether it was created to deceive malicious white slave-owners into thinking that it was not a musical instrument or was simply made out of the resources available it has become a staple of Afro-Peruvian music and many other genres (such as flamenco) in different countries as well. “Cajon” means drawer or chest, and this is essentially what a cajon is: a wooden box with space for the sound to travel in the back. During my time in Perú I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to view many late night Afro-Peruvian and Latin Jazz concerts, and am always struck by the intricacy and complexity of the rhythms that cajon player is able to execute on what is essentially a wooden box.

Chicha is a corn based soft drink that is commonly served by sidewalk vendors and at a variety of restaurants and cafés. It is made from a special variety of corn that gives it it’s rich purple color and has a taste unlike anything I have ever before experienced.

 

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First Week in Perú!

Time August 12th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I recently arrived in Perú, and I must say that it has been everything I could have asked for and more. All of my fellow American students and our Peruvian “patas” are some of the coolest, most interesting people I have ever met, the program staff goes above and beyond to make sure that everyone is doing ok yet still being pushed beyond their comfort zone, the food is spectacular, and I can already tell that my Spanish is improving.

I miss my friends and family, but to be completely honest I am so happy to be here experiencing a different culture and way of life that I don’t really have time to think about the way things are back home.

I could not have asked for a better host family, they are truly amazing people and I am so lucky that they have given me the opportunity to stay in their house and experience their culture.

Everything here is so amazing, it is hard to pick the thing I have enjoyed the most so far, but I must say that having the opportunity to meet so many awesome people has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.

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Preparing for My Journey

Time August 3rd, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As the time to leave my country, friends, and family behind for what will most likely be the most incredible journey I have yet undertaken in my twenty years on this planet nears closer and closer, the fact that I will be living outside the country in a completely different situation than I have grown accustomed to is starting to sink in. Being a guest in someone’s home certainly brings a certain amount of pressure, but I am incredibly excited to meet my host family in person and learn as mush as I can from them (hopefully I am able to teach them a thing or two as well).

I honestly think my mom is more concerned about readying for my trip than I am, and I am frequently being bombarded by requests to start packing and lectures on safety and conduct in a foreign country.

 

Really, I am truly just excited to finally get to Perú and start immersing myself in the culture, cuisine, language, and history of the place; I have been waiting nearly six months and now that the time is drawing near I really just want to be there.

This summer truly flew by and I cannot believe that it is finally time to begin my journey, I am so lucky to have this opportunity and am incredibly excited to begin this experience.

 

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