Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

My advice to you

Time December 8th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Peru | No Comments by

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Whether you are staying for a week, half a year (like I did) or an entire year, I think there is a few tips you should take into consideration before coming to Peru. For one, your experiences will be different from mine, but I doubt it’ll be super different.

Based on my experiences, I have a few tips/words of advice. I don’t know about you, but for me personally, the fact that I know I will leave eventually is a bit detrimental when making friends abroad. I don’t really make lasting connections. It’s not their fault, its mine, and even though I recognize it, it’s hard for me to be super engaging with others. My only friends that I hang out with are the kids from my program. There’s 11 of us total. We go to bars and clubs to go dancing and. We go out and eat together and just hang around. Though it’s great, I wish I had made Peruvian friends. I guess I blame it for leaving campus as soon as class is over to head to the bus so I can avoid traffic instead of hanging out around campus and getting involved in some of the activities. So advice #1: be more outgoing and meet people. Make new friends and get out more! If you don’t follow my advice and are like me, you’ll still be fine, don’t worry. I don’t want you to regret not making more connections with the limited time you have.

Advice #2: Travel and explore! The places I traveled to were amazing! I went to Iquitos and enjoyed the Amazon, and I also went to Cusco and visited Machu Picchu as well as el Carmen. The thing is though, those trips were all organized by our study abroad program. Now that there is little time left, I wish I could have gone on other trips on my own time with a group of friends. Oh well…

Advice #3: I recommend you get a gym membership or motivate yourself to workout. I lost a bit a weight, but I sometimes wonder how much weight I would have gained if I hadn’t done any sort of exercise. I eat a lot so that wouldn’t be such a pretty picture.

Advice #4: Talk. Talk to your host family and get to know them. I love my host parents! Even though they are in their 60s and work during the day, I get to spend some quality time with them when we get together for dinner. They make me laugh and they are good to talk to if you want know what is happening on the news. They are so intelligent and there’s so much to discuss with them.

Advice #4: Splurge a little on yourself. I had a day all to myself one day and it was a great time. I got to enjoy a movie and supper all by myself and it was a pleasant experience. I was able to reflect about life and I felt independent. It was nice being aware of myself.

Advice #5: Don’t be afraid. I mean I’m sure there will be scary moments that appear, but you should definitely not curl up into a ball and not do things because of it. Just because your surroundings don’t look familiar, that doesn’t mean there’s danger at every turn. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a lovely coffee spot or an eclectic little hole in the wall restaurant.

Advice #6: Get out of your comfort zone. You’ll learn a lot about yourself if you do so.

Advice #7: Seize the day! So what if you are sleepy at 12 in the afternoon? Go outside and do something instead of nap. (I’m a napper so not napping is a bit hard) Make the most of your day. Go for a walk, make a donut and coffee stop and just contemplate life.

Advice #8: Be productive! I can’t stress this one enough. Being in Peru, has been a bit of a cake walk compared to what I face at Holy Cross. Once I’m back on campus for the spring semester, I’m afraid that I’m going to get slapped on the face with a reality check. I have so much time on my hands and I mostly use it to watch Netflix, hit the gym, nap or waste my time away on social media. I started to read a book for “fun” because being unproductive was stressing me out haha. My motivation levels definitely lowered so, yes be productive! Or else you will struggle getting back to the swing of things when you go back home to your university/college (trust me).

Advice #9: Be happy! I always smile to myself on random occasions when I take in all the good in my life. Studying abroad is a big deal, and to be able to be in a different country and having the opportunity to enjoy it is a tremendous lifetime experience.

Advice #10: Cherish your time in Peru…or anywhere that you are. Enjoy yourself. All we have is the now, so we might as well take advantage of our waking time to live life.

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Peace out Peru…It’s been real nice experiencing you!

Time December 8th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Peru | No Comments by

img_8703 Picture taken at Machu Picchu

Bags are over packed (mostly from souvenirs) and I’m anxiously waiting to board the plane in a few hours to head back to the U.S. It’ll be 6 months since I’ve been home, and even though half a year has gone by, it definitely doesn’t feel that way. Crazy isn’t it? Read More »

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Tick- tock…is it time yet?

Time November 30th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Peru | No Comments by

The countdown has begun! In less than a month, I will be back home, home to the peach state of good ol’ Georgia. I can’t believe time has flown as fast as it has. I’m so excited to be home. The other day as I was cleaning my room, I got inspired and I started to pack. I packed all the winter clothes that I had brought to Peru (there is really no need for them now that it is spring time here). I also packed some of the souvenirs that I have bought from when I went to Iquitos and Cusco. I have yet to be close to finishing with my souvenir shopping, but for now, I’ll pack everything that isn’t breakable into my massive pink and black suitcase. I’m hoping mom will take it back home when she comes to visit me for Thanksgiving break…

In preparation to my leave, I plan to exercise as much as I can because I’m going to be eating as much Peruvian food as I can, because truthfully I will miss it. Peru has a huge variety of fruits and potatoes. My host family is not much of vegetable eaters, so getting back to the U.S. will be good for that reason. The main reason though that I want to be home is that I miss people. Peru is a very (VERY) affectionate country. You are greeted with a hug and a cheek kiss, but it doesn’t fully make me not want to be hugged and kissed by my family and friends. *cough, cough, and boyfriend.

I’m anxiously awaiting the day I go home. It’ll be a good change of things. I’ve gotten used to having my breakfast waiting for me in the mornings, and I need to do my bed more than I should. I also need to eat better. Having a sweet tooth is not good when you are staying in Peru for 6 months. There’s delicious mouthwatering sweets at every corner. Peru is too good for my own good. Haha. I just hope time flies and that final exams are not too stressful! Smooth sailing is the plan. Let’s hope it happens that way. Until then, I’ll keep enjoying Peru.

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Enjoying el Carmen and its Afro Peruvian culture

Time November 30th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Peru | No Comments by

14606504_1192663597483870_4696597891845674059_n At el Carmen after our dance lesson

This week, my study abroad program went on a trip to el Carmen. We went to visit an Afro Peruvian community, and it was a lovely time filled with good food, fantastic music and plenty of hip moving, and lots of pool time. (Yes, in Peru, there’s every color of the rainbow kind of people). Peru is a country that is racially divided which is rooted by its colonization history.

But anyhow, to start our weekend trip, we hopped on a private bus to start our 3-4 hour bus ride. I had my neck pillow, my phone on full charge, bottled water, and a book to accompany me during the hours ahead. Most of the ride I read, but once I started to get sleepy, I closed my book and I snoozed off into a deep sleep…only to be later awaken by a lot of shaking. We were driving on an uneven dirt road which was peppered with holes and rocks. It was a very bumpy road up until we got to our lodging place. It was an hacienda, and we were the only ones to occupy it that weekend. I had 2 roommates and I couldn’t wait to start enjoying el Carmen.

We ate interestingly seasoned chicken with rice and beans for dinner, and then later some of the group got together in the media room and watched “Inside out”. It was my first time watching the cute kid movie, and I enjoyed it. I shed a tear or two (I’m such a crybaby). Afterwards I went to sleep and I woke up revitalized the next morning from my awesome sleep.

So Saturday, after breakfast of bread and coffee, we had a talk with Carlos, he is basically a pioneer of the Afro Peruvian community. He works very hard to educate people about the Afro Peruvians, and he also advocates for better rights. We learned quite a lot about the history, the struggles, and the advances of the Afro Peruvians. It was very enlightening and it made me think how racism is a negative phenomenon and how racism is manifested differently depending where you are in the world. In Peru for example, some people think that racism does not exist. In Peru, being politically correct doesn’t exist. Racism is conveyed in jokes, in the media, and in daily language. It doesn’t seem as severe, but I beg to differ.

The next activity was a music and dance lesson with two siblings of the renowned Ballumbrosio family. The Ballumbrosios are the equivalent to the Marleys. We were in front of famous Afro Peruvian people essentially. I highly enjoyed learning how to play the “cajon” (a wooden box with a hole in the middle of one side), the “cijada de burro” (it’s literally the bone of a donkey’s jaw), and the “cajita peruana” (musical instrument reinvented from the Catholic collection box). The instruments were unconventional, but nonetheless, they were so great to listen to.

It was so much fun and I couldn’t stop laughing when we started the dance lesson. Talk about being coordinated and having rhythm. After a while I got the swing of things and I was able to enjoy it more. By the end of the hour dance lesson, I was covered in sweat and hot. I wanted to jump in the pool, but we then had dinner. All in all the weekend was pleasant and I enjoyed it. I was able to learn and experience part of the Peruvian culture that I hadn’t seen before. Usually when one thinks of Peru, I bet it’s all about the llamas, Machu Picchu, and the Andes, but as I have seen and learned, Peru is super diverse, in its land and in its people. It’s such a great country to visit that’s for sure.

Side note: wear mosquito repellent at all times possible and sunscreen. While we had free time, I laid out near the pool to get some tanning done and I also played volleyball for a brief moment. Playing volleyball was brief because we realized we were being attacked by baby mosquitoes (they looked like gnats). By the end of our weekend trip, my legs were covered with red mosquito bites. I scratched like crazy, and that was not the wisest of things to do. Another unwise thing that I didn’t do was to put on sunscreen. I was burned and in pain. Several days later I was peeling like crazy. I’m still peeling (2 weeks later). Lesson learned.

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Appreciating My Peruvian House Friend

Time October 25th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Peru | 1 Comment by

Being in Peru for a little bit over 4 months, I have been able to meet several people, gone to many different places, and tried many different dishes. Today I won’t talk about adventuring in Lima, but I’ll focus my blog on a person. A Peruvian individual who I’ve gotten to know over these months has inspired me to write this blog. This blog is in appreciation for all she does and all she doesn’t know she does for me and my host parents. This person is a 27 year old Peruvian woman (girl, like me, in my eyes) who is from the Andean part of the country. She is humble and pleasant to be around. For confidential reasons I will call her by a made up name.

I met Linda the first day I moved in with my host parents. It was a cultural slap in the face since day one. I noticed she acknowledged me as “miss” and averted her eyes most of the time. She’d serve me breakfast and dinner at the appropriate times. I remember how awkward and confused I was. Why was a young girl my age doing things I could very well do for my own? (note-although I’m legally an adult/ grown woman, I feel like a child and I refer myself as a girl, because “woman” still is a bit alien to me. I guess you can say that I have yet to accept the full responsibility of what “grown woman” entails. I still have a lot of growing up to do. haha)

Anyway, Linda was not much of the conversationalist, but I persisted. I tried my best to make her feel like we were not as different as she must have thought of me to be. She probably thought “oh another snooty exchange student”. She definitely stayed her distance the first few days of my arrival.

I encouraged her to sit with me at the dinner table and talk to me. Without fail dinner is always ready and I’m supposed to eat at 7:30 every night. So instead of eating alone because both my host parents, a veterinarian and a boutique owner, are working, I tried to start a conversation. Little by little, day by day, we got to know each other. Linda is a domestic worker/ live-in maid who spends the night and works for my host family during the week. She goes home during the weekends only. It is quite customary in Peru to have domestic workers. It also gives you a social status.

I was pretty shocked. Never in my life did I have someone other than mi mama/mom cook for me and clean after me. Nonetheless, Linda doesn’t just cook me homemade Peruvian food, and has my breakfast of fruit ready at 8:30 every morning. She calls the laundromat whenever I need to get my clothes washed every 2-3 weeks and makes sure I have it delivered to the house. She sweeps my room and throws my trash away. Also, sometimes when I forget to do my bed due to laziness or because I am in a rush to get out of the house to hop on a bus to go to the university, I come home after school with my bed nicely done with my stuffed, polka-dotted, blue dog perched on top of my pillows. She also walks up the stairs with a tray of food whenever my body decides to get sick. During those times she has gone to the pharmacy to buy medicine as well.

So, basically Linda is my hero. Plenty of girls/women like Linda exist in Peru. They are the domestic workers who clean, cook, take care of children and the elderly, and, I’m sure, do other various tasks. Are they appreciated as they should, probably not? They are easily taken as invisible.

For my study abroad, there is a volunteering component, and I happen to volunteer at a place called La Casa de Panchita (Panchita’s House). It is a safe haven for young girls (8-13 year old) and older women who are domestic workers or at risk of being domestic workers. It’s an employment agency that allows women to develop and grow in the atmosphere in which they are in. They are made aware of their rights as a domestic worker and are given the tools to better themselves in their work environment.

My volunteering mostly involves playing with the young girls and engaging in activities to make them aware of their situation. It surprises me how many girls are aware of their rights and risks of being a domestic worker. It saddened me the first time I volunteered to see how these girls had to grow and mature at a faster rate than other kids just because of their economic situation. My feelings have changed since the first day. I believe La Casa de Panchita is empowering these young girls and older women. In a country filled with racism pointed towards the mainly indigenous, and sexism and machismo that affects many of the Latin American countries, women are more likely to become victims of discrimination and whatever other baggage an indigenous female that may or may not know Spanish have put against her.

So now Linda, calls me by my name and sometimes by “Ana”. Every night at 7:30, whenever my host parents can’t join me for dinner, Linda turns the television on and sits with me as I talk about all the craziness of my life. I don’t really consider her a mere domestic worker. She has become a friend of mine. She may be 6 years older than I, and from a different background than I, but we are in the same wavelength when we talk about girly things or anything that involves life. We have shared many laughs and on her part plenty of gasps and giggles before saying “Oh Analhi”. I’ve braded her hair, and we’ve gone to the pharmacy together. We have our mini gossip sessions or just talk about life. I like her a lot because she thinks I’m funny. Anyone who thinks I’m funny is a friend of mine. I definitely don’t think I’m funny even when I’m trying to be.

So here is to you Linda and all who spend countless hours at a home that you cannot call yours, for being away from who you love while you care and tend for others who may or may not value you. You are appreciated! I wish more bridges would form instead of having people distance each other because of their race, economic status, or gender. As the golden rule states “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:31, I do believe)

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Where has the Time Gone?

Time October 10th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Peru | No Comments by

 

at-the-huaca-pucllana At the Huaca Pucllana swimming-in-the-amazon Swimming in the Amazon serenazgo-and-friends-andy-and-nadine Friendly Serenazgo with Andy and Nadine caral-ruin-cont Caral ruin

Today September 14 signals three months since I arrived in Lima, Peru. What have I done during these three months? I have managed to visit the Amazon and swim in it. I have gotten sick three times. I have been able to visit several ruin sites of 2 different, ancient civilizations. I have petted llamas, eaten countless amounts of churros, and managed to be safe while riding back and forth to the university on a combi. I have successfully enrolled in my classes. I have experienced the friendliness of the Peruvian people such as the day I got on the wrong combi to school. I was left stranded on an unfamiliar street. I walked until I saw a lady at a small store and she kindly told me where to go. Once at the bus stop, I met this Peruvian student who happened to be going to the same university. He was aware that I wasn’t from Peru. We talked until we were at our stop. He got off before me and paid for my bus fare. It was the nicest thing. I haven’t seen him since that day.

Another thing I have managed to do is to befriend a serenazgo. Like I have mentioned before on a previous blog, serenazgos are men and women who guard/watch the street for safety measures. Every day when I go to the gym, I pass the same serenazgo. He has a round thoughtful tan face and a sincere smile. I always say “hello” or smile after he nods at me and says “buenos días señorita” as I keep on my way. One day we chatted and I told him how thanks to the serenazgos I feel safe. He assured me I shouldn’t worry. Now every night I leave the gym to go home, I feel better about my surroundings.

Time has flown by and it has been such a wonderful time. It has been a great three months so far and I can’t wait to see what is to come within my last 3 months in Peru.

 

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Starting on the Right Foot at a New School

Time September 12th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Peru | No Comments by

I have started my fall semester in Peru, and it has been quite different. It was an experience to enroll alright. At Holy Cross, enrollment is like this: I wake up at 6:30 am and sit at my desk and wait for 7 am to roll in while my heart starts beating a mile a minute as it gets closer to enrollment. I enroll, and I fall back asleep until my usual 10 or 11 am class. It’s a virtual academic hunger game for enrollment between my graduating class, and this I have realized is a breeze compared to what I had to do for enrollment in Peru. First week of school is “shopping week” for the international students. The local Peruvian students start their first official classes while the international students get to attend the classes they are interested in and observe the professors, no strings attached. On my courses I had all anthropology courses, and I only went to shop for two classes. I was kind of risking my chances because I didn’t really have a backup plan. Have I mentioned how most of the classes get together once a week for three hours straight? Others however get together two times a week for two hours each. So that was also a bit different for me. It’ll definitely be something I’ll have to get used to.

The week goes by and it’s the weekend. I was pretty determined to get my urban anthropology and relations of gender classes. Those would be useful for my major. However, Sunday rolls around and I change my mind completely. I decide on taking a sociology and an art course. Why? I realized that this semester I don’t exactly want to kill myself with homework and stress. I already have to ride on a combi/ bus twice a day each trip being at least an hour long (on a good day). My course selection in the end was focused on taking art. With this decision I was actually very limited. I strategized and found an art class that did not interfere with my already mandatory classes, and I chose a sociology class that could go into my major. I get a core requirement and a major requirement out of the way with less stress than taking two anthropology courses that required a hefty amount of reading. I felt pretty excited for the fall semester. I hoped I would get those classes. I also prayed, just in case. Read More »

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Feeling Sick but Not Discouraged

Time September 12th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Peru | No Comments by

fall-program-standing-in-front-of-a-water-fountain The fall program (11 of us) I’m on the far left

It is Tuesday August 16th, and I’m writing because I feel inspired and sick. This weekend my body decided to attack me and I became very sick. It has been the second time in two months that I’ve gotten sick here in Peru. Was it something I ate? Probably. Could it be that I have something unpleasant living in my stomach? I really hope not, but maybe. Am I hitting the gym too hard, and I’m wearing myself out? I doubt it. Maybe it was due to the fact that I got my feet wet Thursday playing in the water fountains when we took a city tour of Lima that cold misty night. I was walking around with wet feet for 3 hours that day, so I do think that that has made me sick. Do I regret it? No. I had so much fun that night. Adrenaline pumped as I tried to go through the fountain. One wrong move and you could get sprayed. It happened to me once. I should have listened to my study abroad director when she advised whoever wanted to play in the fountain to bring a set of clothes. I should have brought an extra pair of pants and shoes. Oh well, lesson learned. Read More »

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A Craving for Sweets and Experiences

Time August 8th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Peru | No Comments by

Today’s blog is about how I discovered my self-awareness of independence as a 20 year old college student while studying abroad in Peru. This discovery was all thanks to my tremendous sweet tooth.

Its 9:23 p.m. and I am craving a donut. Luckily, there is a Dunkin’ Donuts stand less than 5 minutes away from my house. Even though my host family’s house is near a busy street with loud noises from the constant traffic, living here has some perks. There is a super market with a Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonalds stand, two pizza places, a gas station, a cute, always crowded bakery, a pharmacy (which I’ve already had to visit twice), and a Scotia Bank (thank God). I basically have everything I could possible need a few blocks away. Read More »

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Jumping Through the Window: The First Time I’ve Felt Unsafe Here in Peru

Time August 3rd, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Peru | 1 Comment by

I just bought our tickets yesterday to return home to the States with my husband. We will be leaving on Friday, July 29th. It’s all a little surreal—even though classes ended a few weeks ago, and my parents already came and visited us, it’s hard to believe that we’re already leaving.

But as I reflect back on my time in Peru, I can remember only one instance of ever feeling truly unsafe.

If you have been reading my posts from the beginning, you will remember that I had mentioned how, upon telling others that I would be studying abroad in Peru, they would scowl and say, “Be safe.”

There is a perception in the United States and much of the Western World that Latin America is inherently unsafe, as it is a haven for drug lords, coups, and civil unrest. However, I found this notion to be largely untrue. While Latinos live a very different lifestyle, their culture is not unsafe. Living among them requires the same amount of common sense necessary to surviving in any other culture.

Even in the poorer neighborhoods of Lima, I never quite felt unsafe. I did take extra precautions surrounding my personal items, but I never felt as though I was in any sort of real danger.

So imagine my surprise at my husband’s worry when I tell my him that the program’s goodbye dinner is in the tourist neighborhood of Barranco.

 

img_2610 The main square in Barranco

 

“What are they thinking, taking you there? That is a very dangerous area. I don’t think you should go, especially considering it doesn’t even start until late at night.”

I was initially shocked by his comments until I looked at the location of the restaurant. It was quite far from the main tourist area. Barranco is normally safe, but if you venture too far from the main square, especially at night, things can get sketchy. Even though I would probably not be bothered, common sense tells me to avoid that area at night.

But since I wanted to spend time with the other program students before we parted ways, I went anyway. I called a safe taxi, kissed my husband goodbye, and went on my way. I was looking at pictures on my phone, only halfway paying attention to my surroundings. As we approached Barranco, I noticed that we were driving through one of the bad parts of Lima. I felt uneasy, but I convinced myself that I would feel better once we arrived at the restaurant.

The taxi was about three blocks away from the restaurant. We were going over a series of speed bumps, and as we hit one, a guy suddenly tried to jump through the window open by the taxi driver. I screamed, and the driver promptly shoved the guy outside the window. Frightened, I asked the driver what the guy wanted, but I couldn’t understand him. He did say, however, that this was an extremely unsafe area and that sometimes people will try to steal or kill drivers when they slow down at the speed bumps.

The driver asked me what I was doing around this area, and I told him that I was having a dinner with my study abroad program. He strongly cautioned me to be careful. The restaurant, he told me, was safe, but the surrounding area was not.

The dinner show eventually started, but I could not enjoy my time. The adrenaline from the even was still rushing through my veins, and I was worried about my trip home, since I would have to go through that neighborhood again in order to return home. I called my husband about what happened, and he immediately came to pick me up. I tried to enjoy myself for the half hour while I waited for him, something that proved to be immensely difficult.

My husband arrived in a taxi, and gave me a hug. I started crying about the incident, as I was still scared. I don’t know what the guy wanted, but if the driver had not been proactive in pushing him away, my night would have ended very differently.

My husband told me that while he was in the taxi to pick me up, he say several gangs standing around watching the cars drive by, waiting to do something to an unsuspecting driver or passenger. When he told me this, our taxi driver chimed in and said that the area was unsafe.

We went home and called over our neighbor to have a drink. I drank some wine, and retold the night’s events for the fifth or sixth time. He was surprised by the choice of location as well, but was glad I was safe. After two or three glasses, I was relaxed enough to fall asleep and forget about my worries.

I woke up the next morning feeling at peace about the whole situation. While there were many things that could have gone wrong that night, there were many things that actually went right. From the proactive behavior of the taxi driver, to the quick reaction of my husband, I ended my night in safety.

And while I was in danger that night, I don’t think that I should let one experience in a bad neighborhood negatively affect my perception of Peru. I love this country and will always be an advocate for its safe environment, provided travelers exercise good judgment and common sense.

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Journey to La Casa de Felix

Time December 22nd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Visiting the Capachica Peninsula in Lake Titicaca in southern Peru was easily one of the highlights of the last 5 months.  Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and, at 12,507 feet, is considered to be the highest navegable lake in the world.  I went there at the end of a bus trip that took me from Lima to Paracas to Huacachina to Ica to Nazca to Arequipa to Juliaca to the Capachica Peninsula to Puno then back to Lima, where I am now for my last few days, writing this.  But I think one of my favorite things about my trip to the Capachica Peninsula was the adventure that was getting there.  I’ll begin my story with Juliaca, a large town near Lake Titicaca that is theoretically also quite close to where we were staying (Felix’s house) on the peninsula.  I arrived there with Koby and Koby’s brother Saul at around 1 or 2 pm after a 6 hour bus ride from Arequipa on a bus full of local rural people.  This guy, who apparently thought he was some sort of Peruvian Billy Mays:

peruvian billy mays

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Surfing

Time November 24th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

A new Lima pastime I have discovered recently is surfing.  I had tried to surf once or twice before coming to Peru and more or less failed at it, but here I’ve gone three times, and its been awesome (apart from a few minor problems with sea urchins).  Board and wetsuit rental costs 20 soles, or about $7, and ceviche/leche de tigre (very similar to ceviche) taste even better after coming in from the ocean.

A few days ago, after a good surf session, I was sitting in my favorite ceviche restaurant, and I thought: if ceviche is my favorite food, and this is my favorite ceviche restaurant, that has to put this restaurant somewhere near the top of my “favorite restaurants ever list”.  And a bowl of leche de tigre costs $2.  Wow.  I’m going to have serious difficulty readjusting to american prices.

Unfortunately, the beaches near me in Lima are pretty rocky and unpleasant, but once you’re out in the water it mostly doesn’t matter, and the waves are phenomenal!

Spending more time at the beach is reminding me what a vacation this whole experience has really been, and that it’s going to be over fairly soon. : (

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Iquitos and the Jungle

Time October 28th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The Jungle

Last week, I spent 6 days in Iquitos, including 3 days in the jungle about two hours downriver from the city in a lodge.  While at the lodge, we took several hikes and boat rides, visited some small communities, a shaman (healer/herbal medicine expert), went to a wildlife rescue center, swam in the Amazon River, fished for piranhas, and ate some very good food.  I was surprised at how many people lived in the jungle; there are no roads in the jungle outside of Iquitos, but plenty of people live there in small villages and use the river for transportation.  The lodge felt remote, but it didn’t feel like uncharted wilderness in the middle of nowhere.  There were plenty of boats on the river, and a small town very close by.  The people who live in the Amazon are mostly farmers, fishermen, hunters and loggers, and they take their products by boat to Iquitos to sell.

The nearby village:

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The rescue center we visited was incredible.  Their were monkeys, toucans, macaws, a sloth and an anaconda that had been confiscated from people trying to sell them as pets.  The rescue center was a small park on the Amazon River with no fences, cages or walls.  The animals are brought there when they are confiscated, fed and nursed back to health, and allowed to leave whenever they please.  Unfortunately, because of hunting, we didn’t see many of these animals in other parts of the jungle.  Because the animals can leave whenever they want, those that stay in the center are very friendly and comfortable around humans; particularly the monkeys.

When I first got to the center, I went up to one of the monkeys to take a picture, and he immediately ran up to me, grabbed my hand, and led me somewhere else.

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The same monkey from above and her little alien-baby monkey:

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This guy was particularly fond of me:

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Sloths are every bit as ridiculous as people think they are.

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They would try to scratch you sometimes, but their motions were so slow that you couldn’t help but laugh.  Later, we saw the sloth come down from his tree and start crawling across a field at a snail’s pace:

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We also met with a Shaman, which was really cool.  He told us about a few different plant medicines and herbal solutions, including an alcohol called “siete raices” (7 roots) that is used for all sorts of ceremonies and treatments, as well as all the same things alcohol is normally used for, and Ayahuasca, an extremely powerful hallucinogenic drug that is coupled with a ritual and used for self examination.
 
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Iquitos
 
Iquitos is a city of about 450,000 on the Amazon river in the middle of the Peruvian rainforest.  It is considered to be the largest mainland city in the world that cannot be reached by road.
 
After I got back from the Jungle, I was in Iquitos for two days.  The rest of the ifsa group left, so I was able to explore the city alone.  Travelling alone is a very different experience from travelling in a group, and it was something I had wanted to try for a while.  I did a lot of wandering through the city and its many markets, as well as visited a butterfly farm/animal rescue center.  In the airport while I was leaving, I met two other solo travelers from Ireland and London and talked to them for a while, and we shared a cab back to Miraflores from the airport after we landed in Lima.
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Cuzco Trip: The Casa Hogar

Time October 9th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

On the same day that we visited the small farming community in the mountains, we continued on to a casa hogar (girls’ shelter) run by some nuns in a town at an even higher altitude (~14k feet?).  On the bus, we had prepared three songs to sing as a group to the girls, and the girls had prepared about 20 minutes of dance numbers to perform for us.  It was a grand affair with juice and popcorn, and after the performances were done, we put on music and everyone danced.  Dancing at high altitude was extremely tiring for the gringos, and although some were able to continue dancing for the rest of the night, I had to quit after about 30 minutes, I went outside to join a game of volleyball.

We played for a while, but when it started to rain and we had to wrap up the game, we went back to the main building and I found a guitar somewhere and I friend of mine pulled his harmonica out of his backpack and we started to jam.  All of the girls wanted to try guitar and harmonica, or sing along with whatever lyrics popped into their heads, sometimes in Spanish, and sometimes in Quechua, the native language for many people who live in the Andes.

It was really fun, and the girls were super friendly, fun-loving and enthusiastic, excited that we were there and sad to see us go, but eventually we all piled back into the bus and drove away.  The stars driving back to Cuzco were some of the best that I’ve ever seen.

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One incident I heard about that’s worth noting:

One of the girls in our program, Carlie, had just finished a week of volunteering at the casa hogar the day before our trip.  A few times, she said, girls had come up to her and compared her skin color to theirs and said hers (white skin) was pretty and theirs (darker skin) was ugly.  It was really sad to hear about this kind of thing, as everyone there had dark skin.  They watch the same three movies and no other TV, so its amazing how far reaching the effects of racism can stretch even in a place with so little outside interaction.

 

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^ Obligatory alpaca selfie.

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Cuzco Trip: Breakfast in the Country

Time October 9th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Intro

Recently, I took a trip with IFSA to Cuzco and the surrounding area (including Machu Picchu).  Cuzco is a really cool city and the former capital of the Incan Empire.  It is located in the middle of the Andes mountains at about 11,000 feet.  The Cuzco trip was awesome and way too eventful to describe in a single blog post.  So I am going to do a few posts about some of my favorite parts!


Breakfast In the Country
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This Weekend in Pictures (mostly)

Time September 17th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Huaca Pucllana

We visited, an archaeological site from the Wari culture (500-1000 AD) that was right in the middle of Miraflores on Saturday.

Huaca Pucllana

Huaca Pucllana

It was a fun and interesting tour.  And when I say ‘right in the middle of Miraflores’, I mean like this:

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Also at La Huaca, an obligatory alpaca pic:

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Mistura

My orientation team, the Gringos Greenos

My orientation team, the Gringos Greenos

Back in orientation, my team won free one-day tickets to Mistura, a two-week long food festival that was amazing.  It had the vibe of a small scale Lollapalooza or similar music festival, except the focus was (obviously) on food, and the bathroom lines were more reasonable.  It was right on the beach, and there was even sun!

Mistura!

Mistura!

I spent 7 hours there, eating and sampling all different sorts of food, and only spent about an hour not walking from food booth to food booth… I was watching a live food-network type show.

Some foods I ate:

  • Guinea Pig – tasted like dark turkey meat
  • Alpaca – tastes like a really lean steak.  Bien rico (really good).
  • Lots of Ceviche  – probably one of my favorite foods of all time… my host mom is going to teach me how to make it on Saturday!
  • Leche del Tigre – the juice of ceviche (lime, spices, seafood, other stuff).  It tastes like standing on the edge of a windy cliffside overlooking an erupting volcano.  Mildly addicting.
  • Shrimp soup
  • Sushi
  • Fried rice
  • Brownies
  • Chocolate
  • Maricuya Sour (really good Pisco drink)
  • Tons of samples of chocolate, coffee, and other random things

I spent more money than probably any one else that I went with, and felt a little guilty… the total cost was about $30.

Peruvians are extremely proud of two things: food, and the Incas.  I haven’t been to the Andes yet (I’m going next week), but the pride in food is definitely well supported.

The APPETIZER of a great meal I had today for about $2.70 (partially eaten)

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The Super-Good Birthday Cake Alexandra Brought Today (partially eaten)

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Asides

I have only gotten one legitimate and specific question about American culture while I’ve been here (not including the standard broad ones like “What is the US like?”), and it was concerning the portrayal of ‘Southerners’ in South Park.  Of the many Peruvians I’ve met who have been to the US, the majority have been only to Miami and Disney World.

I saw a Radiohead cover band at a bar this weekend.  They were quite good.  Also, in an effort to further emulate the band, they never talked to the audience, and didn’t play “Creep”.

Probably the most glaringly obvious example of machismo I have seen in Peru yet.  This is a normal can of spray paint:

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I was talking to somebody in one of my classes today, and he told me about this video.  It’s awesome.

Beautiful Day

Summer almost here!

Summer almost here!

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Food, Cau Cau and Asia

Time August 29th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Menú

The food here is delicious and dirt cheap.  Now that I am settled in and know how to look for restaurants, I very rarely pay more than $4-$5 for a good meal served over rice with an appetizer, a beverage, and sometimes even a dessert.  You can find this kind of food at so-called ‘menú places’.  

If these three things are true, you have probably found a menú place:

1. There is no front door, or front wall, on the restaurant.

2.  Ironically, there are no menus within site.  Usually there will be a chalkboard.

3.  The name of the restaurant is not immediately obvious.

Usually I get soup or potato salad for an appetizer and fish for the main course – it tastes fresh and is cooked well, but is otherwise fairly simple –  and smother it with Ají sauce, made from a local pepper that is like ketchup here, only spicier and way, way better.

It’s almost as though all of the menú places operate as a chain. They all cost between 12-15 soles ($4-$5), they are all reliably quite good and have very similar food and atmosphere.

Ceviche

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Part of a Concert I Stumbled Upon at PUCP

Time August 29th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

A Band I stumbled upon playing at PUCP around 6 pm that I really enjoyed.  I think they were called Mucura.  I stayed untill they finished playing… about 30 minutes.

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Week 3

Time August 25th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The Weather

It’s kind of cold here, mostly because of the humidity.  I’ve been wearing sweatshirts, or at least long sleeves, every day, but unfortunately, I only brought three sweaters/sweatshirts, and somehow I managed to lose one of them in my first week here.  Also, I have only seen the sun three times in my three weeks here.  That’s not an exaggeration either… the first time I saw the sun here was my first day, when one of the guys who as been here for longer pointed it out and was amazed to see it.  The second time was during one of our orientation classes (which take place in this really awesome partially-outdoor brick courtyard thing) when somebody saw part of the courtyard become fully illuminated, a clear distinction from the shadows everywhere else.  He alerted everyone in the class, and we all frantically got up out of our seats to run over and look at the sun, before it was gone.  The third time was a few days ago when I went to an art museum with some friends. I should mention that all of these times, we didn’t have a clear view of the sun; we could just clearly see the glowing outline of where the sun was through an unusually thin layer of clouds, and only on one of those occasions did the sky look blue and like anything that could be considered something other than cloudy.

Even though this makes it sound bad, I actually really love the climate.  It’s very comfortable as long as you have a light jacket or a sweatshirt to put on when you are cold.

Chorillos

I caught my first glimpse of real poverty in Lima when I went to the Chorrillos district on Sunday.  My host mom invited to to come along to a family picnic with her daughter, her daughter’s husband and two kids.  We were in a nicer part of Chorillos in a gated community connected to a country club, where we went for the picnic, but driving through parts of Chorrillos I began to see how many people in Lima live.  There were stray dogs everywhere and looking up into the hills off of the main roads were densely-packed, self-built houses separated by dirt roads.  I can’t wait to start working with people from these areas of Lima when we start the volunteering part of the program in Villa El Salvador next weekend.

The Art Museum

I went with some friends to the historical area of Lima to an art museum.  Unfortunately, almost all of it was closed and being renovated, but one pre-Incan exhibit remained open and it was pretty cool, and the building itself was very interesting.

Pictures of Miraflores, Chorrillos and the Art Museum

Classes

I don’t have a whole lot of hope for getting Computer Science/Engineering credit while I am studying abroad here, so I decided to expand my horizons a little bit and take some random classes that interest me.  In addition to the two IFSA required courses, both of which are basically Peruvian History/Culture classes that seem fairly interesting, I will be taking Bio-Huertos (which in English is something along the lines of ‘Urban Farming’), Actuación 1 (Acting 1), and Cine (Film).

Urban farming is something I have always been interested in, and I came here wanting to take an agriculture class or do something related to agriculture with my volunteer work, so Bio-Huertos appealed to me.  Plus there is a lot of class work time in the gardens, where I will hopefully be able to make some Peruvian friends.

Film seemed like a good mix of a fun time and a cultural immersion class that involves discussion and watching films in Spanish.  Our professor has said that he will be exposing us to films from all over the world from all different eras and genres.  The first film we watched this week was the American horror movie, The Exorcist.

Acting has been interesting thus far… I was originally going to take it because I was having trouble finding courses and because there was a chance that it would give me credit for a public speaking requirement I have for Northwestern, but after I went to the classes, I realized that, not only is it pretty fun, its a very verbal-communication heavy class, and I am the only non-Peruvian student, so it has been great for my Spanish, as well as interacting with local students, and we already have a class Facebook group!  If I can learn to act in Spanish, I’ll probably be able to do just about anything in Spanish.  But the class has been unlike any class I’ve had before thus far… Through the reading I have learned things like ‘An actor must have an exceptional perception and sense of sight, hearing, touch, pleasure and smell’, or ‘Being an actor requires an insatiable curiosity for the human condition’, and that ‘Actors must be physically and mentally stronger than other people’.  In class so far, we have mostly made verbal presentations and played games.  We even spent about forty minutes one day ‘exploring the space’ where the class was held.  It was awesome.

All in all though, I think Tobias Fünke’s portrayal of acting is pretty accurate thus far.

Spanish Skills

My Spanish is improving quickly.  I can easily understand all of my professors, or anyone else speaking clearly.  Speaking is much harder, but I’ve been able to make some impromptu verbal presentations that were slower than everybody else’s but still coherent and I said everything I wanted to say.  The hardest things for me are vocabulary and understanding people at stores, on the street or in social settings when I am not initially devoting all of my attention to listening to them.  Also, at the end of the day, I find I am much more tired than I would be if I were speaking English all day.  English also becomes much harder when you are in that Spanish groove, and so I often find myself unable to communicate a complex idea in English or Spanish. tl;dr: My Spanish has improved a lot here but I’ve still got a long way to go.

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Week Two and class selections

Time March 21st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So I have now been in Lima f or two weeks. Orientation is over but it was amazingly fun while it lasted. The entire group here is great and they are all very fun to be around. Through orientation we learned strategies to keep ourselves safe in life as well as interesting slang that is only used here. We ate lots of cool Peruvian food and also explored the closest place to get a decent Burger and Pizza. We traveled all around Lima, from the Plaza de Armas to El barrio Chino. All of which was very fun and interesting. A couple of days ago I was able to go down to the beach for the first time since arriving and that was really fun, we all just chilled and listened to music while the sun shone and vendors came around selling Inka Kolas (Peru’s national soft drink, also utterly delicious) and Churros.

 

One of the things that has been difficult to get use to is the traffic here. As a resident of New Hampshire I view any sort of traffic as inherently evil. In Lima traffic is hell. Riding around in the small, cramped and always full combis while stuck in rush hour (which feels like it always is) is torture beyond belief. Not to mention that in Peru textbooks are incredibly expensive so Professors just photocopy the text. This means that as a student we have to go to the Fotocopiadoras and ask for them to copy the required reading. This wouldn’t be awful if Peruvians believed in lines. But alas they do not and it is typically a giant mass of students yelling there class codes to get the texts they need. It’s incredibly inefficient and it is easily one of my least favorite aspects of being in Peru.

 

There are some very interesting aspects to Peruvian culture that either does not exist in the United States or is slightly different. Something that I have struggled with is the amount of public displays of affection. It is not uncommon to walk down the street or ride a bus and see a couple sharing a passionate kiss. Another thing is that Peruvians tend to disregard personal space, obviously not out of rudeness but because it’s just not a cultural thing here. The “personal bubble” is a very United States invention and it’s sometimes off putting when speaking with locals who will stand very very close to you. I have only experienced this once or twice and each time it came from none Limenos. Another thing that I have struggled to get use to is the besito, also known as the kiss on the cheek, when greeting or leaving the company of a woman. It’s very strange and can make you uncomfortable but it’s something that’s done here and something that I will have to overcome.

 

Lima is classified as a desert so it never ever rains. However, it is the most humid place I’ve ever been to in my life. The Summers here are much the same as the one in New England with a high in the 80s or so. The place where it differs is the humidity. In New England the humidity fluctuates day to day and some days are better than others. In Lima, it is always humid. Typically your average day is about 90%-98% humidity. This makes living here an absolute killer. There are days when just getting up from bed has caused me to break out sweating. It also makes me much more tired by the end of the day. But the weather is always consistent which is something to be said. Lets face it, New England can’t exactly say the same.

 

My time in Lima has been short but I can honestly say that I enjoy being here. There’s something to be said about living in a place that truly feels alive. I use to hate cities but this may change my mind about them. So far my experience has been a rather positive one, there will always be some things that may upset us as people in a new culture but for the most part I can look past most, if not all of them. Some days are obviously harder than others. Some days you miss your friends and family, while sometimes you just simply miss your culture, you miss the consistency of the things you know. In another culture you are always wondering what to do next. But I am happy and that is what counts and I look forward to sharing more of my experiences in future posts.

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Packing

Time March 4th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So I promised that I would share my insight into packing and since this is my last pre-departure post I figured this would be the time.

 

The important thing to consider when packing is the climate you’re going to, especially when that climate is on the other side of the equator. Taking that into account is very important, it could mean the difference between packing 4 pairs of pants when in reality it’s going to be Summer there. Another thing I found helpful is to set everything outside of your suitcase at first so that you have a rather rough visual of how much stuff you have.  I found it useful to start with about 10 days worth of clothes and then add or subtract as needed. I also suggest packing shoes with purpose. This meaning only pack shoes that 1. You know you will use and 2. serve a specific purpose (ie. Normal everyday shoes, sturdy shoes, etc.). This way you are cutting down on extraneous bulk in your luggage, which is important to take into account because you are more likely to have more stuff coming back then going there. So remember to keep as much space left. It’s also a good idea to try and pack anything in your checked luggage that might be searched on the top of your bag so that airline security doesn’t have to destroy your perfectly packed bag. Another good piece of advice is to listen to your study abroad program when they tell you what should go where, whether x item goes in y bag. That’s really all I can think of to help pack. It’s an odd experience packing up all of your clothes and knowing that the next time they are getting worn is in a different country.

The next post will be once I’ve arrived in Peru. I will also try to get some pictures to go along with it.

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miscellaneous

Time July 16th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

a) You will never understand the concept of “cheap” until you’re in Peru. You’ll also fall in love with bartering for the souvenirs you’ve acquired and the stories you’ll hear from the vendors.

b) Never again will you share mate & wine with your professor before, during, and after class.

c) Never again will you see a orange and red colored school buses instead of the familiar banana yellow bus.

d) Never again will you have the most relaxing time of your life. When I first got here, I had to suspend the continual, persistent question: “Am I supposed to be doing something right now? Why do I have free time?” NOPE. Never again will you be comfortable with free time anywhere else.

e) When you’re placed in a country that speaks another language, survival instincts will kick in and you will understand and learn so much more quickly than you ever imagined.

f)  You will never have 2-3 days canceled due to the Viento Zonda (instead of a snow day or something; ” wind day”), and where people attribute headaches & illnesses to the wind (there ARE fires and such, but in northern part of Mendoza. Where I live, it was just really windy and there were higher temperatures).

g) Only in this continent, will you hear Adele EVERYWHERE. Bars, clubs, and restaurants will BLAST the soulful, passionate songs of Adele.

i) Only here, will you walk by people and everyone will be reeking of perfume and cologne. Especially the men. Including the plumbers and street cleaners. Apparently,  cologne marks cleanliness and “freshness.”

j) Only here, will you be reminded every minute, moment, day, of your ethnicity and your status as a foreigner.

k) Only here, will you get the MOST FLATTERING compliments (I will probably never have someone stop traffic for me again, ha) of your life, and the MOST OUTRAGEOUS catcalls of your life.

On another note, if you can understand some Spanish….this video is a parody of “Shit X says.”

 

 

 

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peru

Time June 4th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Before coming to Argentina, I never dreamed that I’d be able to travel to (the tip of) Patagonia, Chile, and PERU. Even now, I still can’t believe I was at Machu Picchu! I’ve been looking at my pictures non-stop, unable to actually believe it. Is this real life?

Entering Peru was definitely a culture shock, after having lived in both the US and Argentina (at least, for a couple of months). During our taxi ride from the airport, I was surprised by how much I related Peru with India. The amazing scenery, dominating presence of culture, and llamas walking around in the center plazas may have contributed to that sentiment. Although I can’t quite explain it, the Peruvian culture was so alive in every corner of the city. As much as I love the Andes, the mountains looming in the background in Cuzco were breathtaking.

But then of course, there was the element of tourism. There were SO MANY tourists! Since we were at the peak of tourist season (good weather), we had numerous vendors approach us (there was one day where I was approached in English, Japanese, Korean, and Mandarin all consecutively), asking if we needed massage or other tourist services. It was overwhelming!

One thing about Mendoza is that the province generally attracts an older crowd of tourists who mostly come for the wine and stay for a couple of days. But in Peru, the common “young tourist” was a European backpacker either traveling or volunteering (in a jungle, teaching English, etc) with no grasp of Spanish. Pretty interesting. Then of course, there were hordes of tourists, both young and old, from all over the world, to go see Machu Picchu. Due to the tourism, there was a strong presence of commercialism. The Inca legends and history were all hyped up, and exaggerated. The quaint architecture that contained elements of the Incas and colonialism, all housed modern Starbucks, KFC’s, and other fast food chains. Speaking of food: Peruvian food is amazing! We didn’t try alpaca, llama, or guinea pig, but we had delicious chica and other foods. Note: do not eat the Chinese food, at all costs!

Regardless, exploring the different parts of the city was extremely enjoyable. Although during the first few days, my friend and I walked quite slowly due to the altitude. We were out of breath fairly quickly. (Turns out we were lucky, since some other lodgers at our hostel were violently throwing up, yikes). Remember the three rules to prevent altitude sickness: drink before you’re thirsty, eat before you’re hungry, and sleep before you’re tired! 😀

After a few days in Cuzco, we took a bus to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, so we could catch a train to Aguas Calientes. Interestingly enough, the train cars were separated for locals and foreigners (and a heavy fine for foreigners who ended up on the locals car). The view of the landscape on the train was absolutely stunning. They served us banana chips (delicious) and corn covered in chocolate (even more delicious).

Of course, the minute we got to Aguas Calientes, we were met with a million faces asking us if we needed hostel, tourist, and bus services. It was too much. We asked the third lady we encountered for the price and she seemed pretty reasonable. She took us to a dingy “hostel” with a sketchy room and a tiny bathroom with only cold water, and one miniscule bar of soap. We were too tired and wary to protest or muster the energy to find another hostel. But somehow, after chowing down on bread and jam (living the backpacker’s life!), we walked around the town (mostly consisted of Inca figures hyped up), then settled on a pizza place for dinner. (note: the price seemed cheap, but they hid the tax fee, sigh) Since there wasn’t much to do, we went to bed super early so we could get up at 4am. Which…..we miraculously did.

There were buses picking up (lazy :D) people from their hotels to Machu Picchu. We chose to walk all the way to the top. The walk to the entrance itself was mystical. The mountains loomed over us, tall and menacing in the dark. The river seemed to pound against the rocks, which were in weird shapes and sizes. Since we didn’t have a flashlight (mistake), we tip-toed carefully against the bridge and trail, slightly scared but ridiculously excited. Then…..we reached the entrance point. Long story short: there was a problem with my ticket. I ran back to the village, where thankfully, they had tickets left for that day. I paid, ran back, and THEN we started our trek uphill to Machu Picchu at last.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t THAT out of breath during the climb. Each step we took, we were rewarded with a view that grew more and more gorgeous and unearthly. To put it crudely, it’s incredible how the Incas even found the mountains, had the adrenaline to climb up, decide on a location, then BUILD AN ENTIRE CITY up there. It was also impossible to take a bad picture.

Once at the top, it was ridiculously hard to register that we were there. The image in front of me was unreal. Everything was majestic and built to perfection. The weather was perfect, too. Maybe a little too perfect, since we both got sunburned. -_- There were people from all over the world, with tours being given in numerous languages. There were alpacas up there, beautiful foliage, and although I was scared for my life, I couldn’t help but look down every few seconds; to understand the fact that I actually walked all the way up to the site and survived (in fact, as we were walking down, there were these two girls who were excitedly shouting, “We conquered the lost city!” a little too much, haha). Interesting fact: you’re not allowed to take jumping pictures on Machu Picchu. The guard yelled at me.  Then, before we knew it, the day was nearing 5pm, and the park was about to close. The trek downhill took 2 hours. We were exhausted, but unbelievably happy.

After Machu Picchu, we took a bus to Puno, to go see Lago Titicaca. Fun fact about the lake: if you turn a map of the lake upside down, you can see a puma hunting a rabbit. The puma is Peru, and the rabbit is Bolivia. Titi means great (I think), and caca means rock, although we’re more familiar with the slang meaning. Obviously the latter refers to Bolivia. Oh, international rivalries. And due to the black market, no one is permitted to travel to Peru or Bolivia via the lake.

When we got to Puno, we were dropped off at 4am (we arrived much earlier than they said we would!) at a very silent terminal. We were pretty aloof, so we followed a woman who was trying to sell us a tour at her agency. When it seemed like we were about to walk off (we were just really, really tired), she lowered  the price, so that we ended up paying $20 for a day’s tour. Unintentional bartering strategy, yay!

We boarded a boat that took us to the Floating Islands. The islands are constructed from a reed that grows at the bottom of the lake. Each island is the home of a family, and it felt slightly awkward intruding upon their private space, yet….it was clear tourism was their main source of revenue. They showed us how they live, and took us for a ride on their reed boat.

Then we went to Taquila Island, which was quaint and beautiful. We were served lunch and given time to walk around the island, and the island gave off a Mediterranean vibe, with the clear and amazingly blue water. The lake was stunning, and the tranquility made everything enjoyable. I had no idea how big and beautiful the lake was. Next time I’m in the area, I’d like to cross over to Bolivia…..algun dia!

Overall I am extremely happy that I had the chance to go to Peru. It is a country that is not only home to Machu Picchu, but other amazing sites that I unfortunately did not have the time to explore. I’m going to miss the majestic mountains, the friendliness of the people (everyone addresses you as ‘amigo’ or ‘amiga’) and the bartering (best strategy is to feign interest, look disinterested, and then walk away, haha)! I hope I can return again.

captions: Plaza de Armas/Cuzco/Cuzco with Cristo Blanco in the background/Cuzco 1-2/streets/delicious chicha/San Pedro market/successful bartering!/rickshaw/Ollantaytambo 1-2/train/view from train/soccer field/center/Aguas Calientes/more markets/bridge entrance/Machu Picchu/view from climb up 1-2/incredible view 1-4/friendly alpaca!/amazing views (city in the shape of a condor) 1-8)

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Our Unique Interpretation of the Afro-Peruvian Alcatraz

Time June 27th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

What’s the one sure way to put on a good show? Plan it half an hour in advance.

We were on our way to an orphanage/shelter in the outskirts of Cusco. Our bus was full of basic goods and gifts for the girls and young women who live there, and the plan was to gift them the gifts, play tag and volleyball for a few hours, and see a small performance they had organized for us. Then Lali, our program director, decided we should put on a performance, too. We being everyone in the program. No exceptions.

What then unfolded was a manifestation of youthful genius. We proposed a series of ideas, each more absurd than the last, until we found the one. We were to put on our own “unique interpretation of the Afro-Peruvian Alcatraz,” in which one dancer tries to light the other’s skirt on fire.

I didn’t have a skirt, and if I had I don’t think I would’ve gone so far as to put it on. A tail made of toilet paper, tied to my belt, provided the flammable material. We didn’t have a candle, either, so we settled for a lighter. And Oscar doesn’t even dance Afro. Add to that that our cajón was a cardboard box, and what results is the following video that defies words.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9XffjNRK4A

Post-Script: For future IFSA students, I highly recommend taking Afro-Peruvian dance at La Católica. It is an hour and a half, once weekly, of letting loose and having fun. You may even learn how to move your hips.

P.P.S.: This is what the real Alcatraz looks like. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyXBcAMcaF8&feature=related

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Collecting Families

Time February 7th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

There was no mistaking her words as I walked into her open arms: “Bienvenidos, nieto.” Welcome, grandson.

All of my grandparents passed away between two and a half and forty-five years ago. But yesterday, I was not only a grandson but also a child once again. Claudia’s grandparents (in English they are her grandparents, in Spanish mis abuelos, my grandparents) invited me to their apartment, to a sleepover, and I accepted. And my greeting was no less genuine than if their own blood had walked through the door.

Abuelita set before me a heaping plate of vegetables – eggplant, carrots, string beans and potatoes cooked in a tomato sauce, a dish reminiscent of Indian cooking. And there were plantains, two of them, with a bowl of white cheese to sprinkle on top. Playing the role of grandson who doesn’t want to hurt his grandmother’s feelings by not eating everything she puts in front of him, I ate everything she put in front of me. Which, by the end of the next day, amounted to three toasted white cheese-mayonnaise-tomato-ketchup sandwiches, a plate of rice and fish, oatmeal, an apple, three plantains, loads of white cheese, homemade cake, two cups of coffee, a constantly-refilled glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, and Toddy, the Venezuelan equivalent of Ovaltine. What’s the only thing that says, “You’re my grandson,” more than a glass of Ovaltine? Not being allowed to get off of the couch as your grandmother brings you a glass of Ovaltine.

And that was how the day went. Of course, not everything was so child-grandparent oriented. We talked about the political persecution of their children and relatives, several of whom were a part of the over 20,000 workers fired and blacklisted by the government after the national oil company went on strike in 2002. We talked about their wishes for their grandchildren to leave the country and about the months that have passed without coffee, milk, plantains, etc. In short, we talked politics. They were atypical conversations for our relationship, but typical given the political situation in Venezuela.

More broadly, in Latin America there is an openness, a conscious permitting of the blurring of (non-political) lines, that I appreciate. Family is of the utmost importance, and a bigger family, it seems, is better. I have gained grandparents, aunts and uncles, in-laws, etc. The entrance exam is simple: if our granddaughter/daughter/niece loves you, and if you love her, and if you treat each other well, then…ok!Still, back in the U.S., they will be my girlfriend’s grandparents, my girlfriend’s mom, her dad. And my sisters-in-law back home will still be SIL’s, not sis’s.

What about Peru? Thanks to IFSA, my host family has already contacted me. “We already have experience in receiving students into our home,” Bubby, my host-mother told me in her first e-mail, “although more than students, we treat them like they were our own children.”

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