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Peru Pics

Thursday 06.26.2008
Peru Pics
I made it! I'm in Peru, and I have had a crazy day, so let me back up a little bit.

First off, a little about Peru. The Shining Path Movement, a radical terrorist organization, caused massive political violence in the 80s, and the govenment response in the 90s controlled the situation, though authoritarian leadership and extensive corruption are claimed to have played big parts. The political situation has gotten more stable in recent years, and the Shining Path Movement has been mostly eradicated. The country was very effected by a severe earthquake on August 15th of last year, which was particularly devastating because many of the buildings are made with clay bricks, which didn't hold up. Walking through Chincha it's not hard at all to find incomplete buildings or areas with rubble. The Peruvian currency is the Nuevo Sol (S/.), which exchanges to about $2.85. Peru is also famous for Machu Picchu, an abandoned Incan mountain city, which I am determined to visit before I leave.

My trip: I flew to Peru from Florida, where I was with my family on vacation in their new house in Ave Maria, Florida. The flight from Florida was only 5 hours or so, which was a nice change from 12 or however many it would have been straight through. I got in around 9 at night, and got through immigration and customs really fast.

Luis, a friend of Isaac, was waiting for me at the airport with a sign, so I had to look around a bit but found him without too much trouble. We took a taxi to a hotel where I spent the night in Lima.

Yesterday morning I was picked up at the hotel by Mona, a woman involved with the Christian Life Movement (http://clmusa.org), the organization Isaac works with. The drive down to Chincha only took about one and a half hours without traffic, and we talked a lot about Peru and the food here and what I have to do and see in the next two months.

Mona got me settled with some tea and then left for a meeting, so I had some time to get unpacked and settled in my room. Let me say that the house here is very nice, and not very typical of Chincha. I'm pretty close to the edge of town, but at the end of what looks like a dirt alley are several very lovely walled-in homes. This house has a pool in the front yard, and two guest rooms beyond the back yard, one of which belongs to me. They have a dog who has four puppies that all stay in the back yard, which can make getting to my room a challenge. As you can see in the pictures I have one room to myself and a bathroom, though it looks like I'll be getting used to taking cold showers. It's nice that it's a little separated. I have seen so far that my time might be pretty busy here, so having my own space will come in handy I'm sure.

After a while Carlos, the groundskeeper/housekeeper told me there was a taxi that was here to take me into town. We first stopped by the Christian Life Movement center in town to pick up Lili, the secretary, who I had spoken to that morning, and then we went to the house of a woman involved with the Movement named Rosario. (sidenote: when people around here are talking about CLM they just call it "the movement", which is just easier.) I met Rosario and another woman who works with them, and we talked for a while before eating.

For lunch we had vegetable pie and then chicken with rice with a advocado, onion, and lemon juice salad, with sweet potatoes in a sugary syrup for dessert. It was all very tasty. So far my stomach hasn't reacted too severely to anything, but I have been careful. The main things to watch out for are tap water (bottled is okay, but some vendors do refill bottles with tap water, so I've been sticking to fizzy water), ice, which is really only found in restaurants, and lettuce, since it would generally have water or microorganisms I'm not used to on it. I've been learning about all the traditional Chinchano dishes, and I must say I'll be happy when my stomach is used to the food here enough for me to expand my horizons.

After we had lunch we talked for a while more and then Rosario took me to Armonizar, a clinic that the movement runs. They mostly do ear, nose, and throat stuff, as well as speech and movement therapy, and they have a psychologist who comes every two weeks. It's entirely staffed by volunteers, and they ask for S/.3 per visit but make exceptions for those who can't pay. They're also the only clinic to offer these sorts of services in Chincha, which makes it all the more remarkable that they're doing it for free.

At Armonizar I met another member of the movement named Ralph (it's a Spanish name too! Just make sure you roll the "r" and give it a nice "ah" sound). Ralph operates mainly in the social areas of the movement's work, and when they closed up at Armonizar he took me to a meeting he was having in another part of the city where they were hoping to get a building project underway for another clinic and homes for people who still don't have proper shelter, since recovery from the earthquake has been very slow in parts. About 20 people from the area showed up for the meeting, at which he discussed their building plan, gave a sort of sermon on Ss. Peter and Paul, whose feast day is this Sunday, taught us a hymn, and closed in prayer. It was really cool to see him interacting with the regular people in the community that way.

After meeting some kids who had been running around outside, we went to dinner at a place called Olivar, where I had steak and fries, which I guess didn't seem so un-Peruvian because it came with a few different kinds of interesting sauces. In any case it was easy on my stomach, which is good. I got home around 11 last night and went to bed after getting some pictures uploaded.

Things I learned today:

Peruvians are very nice people
I think I'm going to really enjoy the next two months
I am going to learn to take very fast showers

Friday 06.27.2008
Peru Pics
This morning Carlos came to tell me there was a taxi for me around 11. When I got out to the car there was a woman who works with the Movement who took me around the city and showed me some churches. The oldest church in Chincha is St. Dominic's, which unfortunately was not open. There's also the Virgin of Fatima Church and the Church of Christ the King, both of which we were able to enter. We also walked through the city for a while, both to get from Fatima to Christ the King and then to walk through a busier street that was lined with all sorts of shops.

We eventually got some lunch, which was again steak and fries with a similar salad to the one I had yesterday. After lunch we went to a bodega, where wine is made, to meet some friends of the woman who was showing me around. They make a lot of wine there and let us taste several. The couple who own it were really nice, and gave me a free bottle of a very sweet wine I tried.

Around 6 Jose Luis came to pick me up, and we went first to pick up his daughter at a egg farm a little outside of town that was very nice--I wanted to take some pictures but it was dark outside. After getting his daughter we went to his house and picked up his wife and mother, and then went to the Colegio Santa Maria to see a play put on by some 6th graders that his son was in. The play was a traditional Peruvian story that dealt with a son giving his father a rooster who wins a fight but then dies, and in the end they value the rooster for not being strong rather than being able to kill... or something like that. Kids aren't always very easy to understand. I have a heckuva time talking with the boys who live in the house here. We'll see how things go once I start at the school.

After the play we went back to Jose Luis' house for some dinner, and we talked for a while about the earthquake that happened here. It seems like one of the first things people want to talk about here, and from the damage that is still visible it's obvious why. I haven' looked up any figures, but I've been hearing that it lasted over 3 minutes, and I can only imagine that 10 seconds in an earthquake would seem like forever. Everyone I've talked to said they thought it was the end of the world, and that you couldn't steady yourself, the ground wouldn't stop moving, and the sky lit up bright. Yesterday there was actually a very small earthquake that people have also been asking me about, but it happened while I was still in Lima and it wasn't felt there. Naturally, people here were freaking out a little and thought it was last August all over again, but it turned out to be nothing.

A little later Jose Luis and his wife took me to a restaurant to meet some of their friends where they were having an 80s night. I guess Peruvians are used to coming out later, because when we got there at 9 no one else was there. The 80s tunes were bumping though, and from where we were seated up in the loft area people from our group would at times go ask the person controlling to sound to turn it down or just turn it down themselves. The cultural differences were very funny to see. They also had a friend who was overweight who they would call "Gordis" which basically means "fat" which seemed so strange to me, but to them it was all good.

That's all for now. I should now be all up to date on my pictures and letting everyone know what's going on, and I'll keep the updates coming!

Things I learned today:

Peru has areas that are ideal for drowing grapes for wine
Cock fights are a traditional Peruvian past-time
Given the proper motivation, anyone can learn to take extremely brief showers

Saturday 06.28.2008
Peru Pics
I was just brushing my teeth in the bathroom and noticed a little lizard in the corner by the window, which doesn't close (nothing here is heated) and thought "That's interesting and sort of gross, I hope I don't have anything to do with those" and then of course when I was back in my room and went to put my camera battery in my charger there was a little tail sticking out from under it... I got my trash can from the bathroom and did my best to knock him off the wall and trap him under it, but in doing so separated the little bugger from his tail and a foot, which wiggled of their own accord on the floor as I shuffled the unwelcome reptile out the door. They're probably still wiggling in the toilet, but there are now no lizards where I will soon be unconscious as far as I know.

When I was at Armonia on Thursday they told me about a city wide collection they would be doing as a fundraiser today, so I got up nice and early to be ready when they sent for me. I headed over to the Movement's headquarters in the city around 9:45 where tons of kids were ready with their t-shirts (the slogan was "A nose for a smile" since Armonizar repairs cleft palates and we were going to have clown noses but they went to Lima by accident so we didn't and it didn't really make sense, but no one cared), balloons, and collection cans. I got paired with Gustavo, who's 19 and teaches at St. Mary's. We went out with Ralph, who was paired with Joaquin, whose parents took me out last night. We drove over to a busy part of town where there's a huge market and split up there. Gustavo and I made our way around the vendors outside and then headed into the indoor area, which is another huge open area divided up into tons of rows of vendors in tiny stations. A large area is dedicated to gastronomy, and never have I seen so much meat in my life. They had whole ducks, pig skins, pig head, ground beef, livers, chickens, fish, and all sorts of things that looked like they really should have been refrigerated, but I guess they're just used to it. The smell was not super pleasant.

Around 1 Gustavo and I walked over to the Channel 48 station, where the Movement has a television show. Ralph was talking about the Papacy today (since tomorrow is St. Peter's feast day) and the collection, and at the last minute told a bunch of us to come stand around them as they did their interviews with people involved with Armonizar, so in my third day in the country I've been on TV, although I didn't talk at all.

After the TV show we went back to headquarters and then Cesar brought me to the house where he lives with Ralph, Isaac, and the other consecrated laypeople, who in Spanish are called Sodalites (Pronounced "soh-DAH-lee-tay"... I think the word in English pronunciation sounds a little funny but I can't think of any way to Anglicize it). I had lunch with them there, which was squid that seemed fried or sauteed or something with tomatoes, fried fish with rice, and fruit. After we ate and talked for a while Ralph and I went back to headquarters to pick up some girls who teach a catechesis class in a little neighborhood in a poor area just outside of town. We hung out there for a little while, and the kids were fun but unruly. Ralph then took me a little farther out of town, to San Martin, which is one of the poorest areas around Chincha. All the houses were pretty much destroyed in the earthquake, except one wall where a man had painted a picture of St. Martin, which is still standing, so they recently changed the name of the town. The people are currently living in houses made primarily of bamboo. It didn't really seem that different from the way people live in India, but it just struck me as so hard, and I think it's because it's not hot here! It's not like these houses are insulated, and it gets down to 50 or so at night, but it could of course be worse. Still, my experiences with cold showers have made me very sympathetic lately... Coincidentally I asked the housekeeper about the water and he said he forgot to turn on the water heater! When he went to do it the valve on the gas was broken, but he brought over another tank so I could shower. I feel like such a baby about hot showers, but when the rooms inside are as cold as it is outside, dousing yourself in icy water is absolutely painful.

Ralph and I walked around San Martin a while and spent some time with the people there, which was really nice. On our way back we picked up the girls at Huaca de los Muertos and visited with the kids there for a bit, and then headed back to headquarters again. When we got there they were starting the rosary, and afterwards had a little presentation where they introduced a priest who is staying with them, and me, to my surprise, and had me stand and introduce myself. I've been doing that a lot lately, but I just feel like there's not that much more to say! They also announced who collected the most throughout the day, and gave prizes to the winners. We hung around for a while before leaving, and made a few stops to drop the supplies at Rosario's house and take some people home. Fishing is a pretty big industry here, and tonight there's a big party for all the fishermen in honor of the feast of Peter and Paul tomorrow. I was going to go out with Gustavo to see some of it, but after all our errands it was pretty late when I got home so I decided to call it a night. They tell me (which pretty much defines my schedule) that I'm going to Ica tomorrow, and we're heading out at 8 so I should get some sleep. Buenas noches!

Sunday 06.29.2008
Peru Pics
Today I got to know a little bit of Ica, the capital of the province Chincha is located in. Ica is about an hour and a half to the south-east of here, and there are buses that go between Chincha, Ica, Lima, and other cities that leave every ten minutes. The person who took me was Manuel, who grew up in Ica and with his family has a small business that makes candies called "tejas" that are like variations on (candy) turtles.

Ica was a nice change because Chincha is very small and everything is pretty smooshed together. That's not to say Ica is much to shake a stick at, but it's more to shake a stick at than Chincha, and in Ica there's nicer architecture and things are a little more orderly and spread out. People in Chincha tend to go to Lima more to do shopping, but Ica is closer and it has a movie theater, which Chincha lacks. We got in to Ica around 11 and went to Manuel's parents' house, where we had lunch and watched the soccer final of Spain vs. Germany since it seems you can't not watch it here (Spain won, which I think made everyone here happy).

Ica is located in the middle of the desert, which means the days are warmer, but by the same token it gets real chilly once the sun goes down. One unique feature of Ica is the oasis Huacachina, located just outside the city. It's mostly a tourist spot and it is very pretty. In recent years it's been drying up but they add more water to keep the tourism going. After we saw the oasis we went to another bodega where they also make pisco, a liquor that's sort of a national symbol made from distilled grapes that tastes not totally unlike whisky. A popular drink is the pisco sour, made with pisco, lemon juice, sugar, ice, and egg whites.

When I got home around 10 Raul and Mona were home, which hasn't really happened so far since I've lived at their house. Since I hadn't eaten they took me out to a place on the plaza by the coffin of La Melchorita, the Chinchana girl who died in the 50s and is in the process of beatification. Since we were on the plaza we could hear a procession going on for Ss. Peter and Paul's feast day in the street, complete with really loud fireworks that just sounded like gun shots and kept on setting off Raul's car alarm. It was nice to just sit and talk with Rau and Mona and get to know them a little better. We also went over some more things about the house, and they reiterated that they really want me to feel at home and eat their food and watch their TV and tell them what groceries to get and everything. It was very nice.

Things I learned today:

How distillation works
Peruvian religious celebration knows no curfew

Tuesday 07.01.2008
Peru Pics
Yesterday I got my first taste of real, authentic Peruvian cooking. For dinner, I went out with Carmen, a woman from Chincha, and Lili, the secretary of the Christian Life Movement. We went to dinner and ate all the parts of an animal you're not supposed to eat. The first plate was a mixture of cow intestine and cow throat, cut into little pieces. The throat was sort of like eating calamari, and the intestine was a much more agreeable texture, but the inside was sort of mealy and if I thought about what it was I was eating it was a little unpleasant. Lili told me that the tradition of eating these weird body parts came from the colonization of South America, when the Spaniards would eat all the meat and the slaves would have to make do with what was left. Ironically, now the people prefer eating like this.

After that was "Anticucho", which is chunks of heart barbecued like shish-kebobs (also cow). This was quite yummy, aside from being sort of tough, and tasted pretty much like steak. Then we had cow liver, which I guess is a less unusual body part to eat, and looked like a steak but had a very mealy texture, and it wasn't too bad. After that they ordered some chicken in a style that's very traditional here, and as they explained it I realized they were talking about rotisserie chicken, which came with fries, and was a nice finish. We had a drink that was made from mildly fermented corn juice called "chicha" that tasted just a little vinegary and wasn't too bad.

Yesterday and today I spent more time getting to know the school a little bit. I've now sat in on a few English classes, and today I came to the upper-intermediate class to talk with the students. One of the boys speaks really good English and keeps up with American basketball, so when I said I was from Minnesota he said "The Timberwolves, right?" I was pretty shocked.

For lunch I went out with Magali, the school secretary who has my schedule all worked out for me, and Rocio, the intermediate-level English teacher, to try ceviche, a very typical Peruvian dish usually made with raw chunks of white fish and raw onions in a lemon sauce that just sort of cooks the fish.

My final impression of Peruvian food is that it's not bad, but it's not something I think I'd crave just yet. Lima is supposed to be the gastronomy capital of the Americas, so maybe my tastes will change.

Monday 07.07.2008
Peru Pics
Things got really busy for me this week, so I haven't been around here for a while. Isaac, who was my contact here before I left the US and is in charge of the school, got back today, so we figured out my schedule. I'm going to work in the school in the mornings with 6th graders. They were previously combined with the 7th and 8th graders in a big class with one teacher over all of them, so I'm helping them out there a little. In the afternoon I'll be doing work with their social organizations, like the clinic, or catechesis. On the side I'm going to be be translating the blog the movement keeps and the school's website into English so people in the US can see what they're up to. This was all sort of figured out Thursday, and Friday I was just shadowing the other professor to see how he works, so tomorrow will be my first real day on the job.

There have at least been a lot of updates in the photo gallery. Here's what they're all about:

7/01 - Last Wednesday I spent the day with Rosario, who owns a pharmacy here in Chincha (in case anyone's been keeping up- -yes, there are a ton of Rosario's here, and the nickname for Rosario is Charo). Shortly after I got there Rosario's mom, another Rosario, was going to go out to visit some poor families who haven't had real houses since the earthquake. In a sidenote about the earthquake: I don't even remember really hearing about it in the news, but the earthquake last August 15th was big news for all of Peru. Its epicenter was right around Chincha, so there was a ton of damage here, though all of Peru was effected (I'm not sure about bordering countries, but it must have at least been felt there if it didn't cause damage). I've been having a lot of "first conversations" with people since I got here, and its always one of the first things they bring up. They all say the ground shook so much you couldn't keep your balance, the sky lit up bright white, and they thought the world was literally coming to an end. It lasted over three minutes, and I can only imagine 20 seconds in a horrible earthquake would seem like forever, but I can't even imagine what three minutes would have been like. It must have seemed like it really wasn't going to stop. I'm sure you've picked up in my previous entries that a lot of houses were destroyed and that progress has been slow. Chincha is still pretty dirty and doesn't have complete sidewalks most places. It took me a few conversations with people to realize that it wasn't this way before the earthquake, and it used to be quite pretty here. The houses Rosario is getting built are more like wooden shacks, but they are enclosed and are a vast improvement over what the people are currently living with. She also took me to Santo Domingo, which I hadn't yet been in. The church is the oldest in Chincha, and one of about three that survived the earthquake (there used to be many more), but it did suffer damage and the back is still blocked off.

After going around a bit we went back to the pharmacy, which is located about a block off the main plaza in Chincha Alta, which is the main section of the city Chincha (the house I live in is in Grocio Prado, another neighborhood that's a little to the north in Chincha), and it was really cool just to be in the city in the middle of the day and be able to enjoy it without having to run around and be specifically sight-seeing or something. I hung out for a while, and Rosario (daughter) was like "use the internet if you want" and kept on pouring me Inca Kola (time for another sidenote: Inca Kola is the most popular drink in Peru, outperforming Coke in spite of their intensive marketing here. The Pepsi challenge, where people were given blind taste tests of Coke and Pepsi and people would be told which one they had chosen, Pepsi was pretty much destroyed in the Peruvian soft drink market because people just didn't like being told they were wrong! They either found they preferred coke in the test or switched to Coke afterwards out of spite. Since Coke still couldn't compete with Inca Kola's sales, it now owns 60% of its stock. Inca Kola is an unnatural flourescent yellow color and tastes like bubble gum.). I asked if there were any nearby shoe stores, and Rosario took me around the city to several! I told here if we needed to get back that was fine, and she was just like "Don't worry about it, I like shopping!" I took some pictures of a basket-making shop, which is very popular in Grocio Prado, and also of Rosario's house, which is on top of the pharmacy and has a cool view of the city around it.

7/04 - Sunday was Teachers' Day, so on Friday there was only a half-day of class. In the afternoon the teachers all got to play games and have a special lunch, so we played volleyball and soccer. I didn't know in advance, so I was able to play volleyball in my teacher clothes, but only the girls played soccer, so it didn't matter that I only had fancy shoes.

7/05 - On Saturday I helped with the catechesis class in the morning for the kids who are going to make their first Communion. We sang some songs first, and then split into groups and I observed while Andres (a Sodalite discerning his vocation) talked about the gestures in the Mass and what they mean. Later in the day I went with Ralph down to some towns south of Chincha like I did last Saturday. This time some Spaniards were in town and came with, and it was cool to talk to them. They were from Sevilla, which I didn't visit, but they obviously knew a lot of the places I had visited. We walked around more and went on top of the tallest huaca (former Incan pyramid, now a big hill of dirt) and got a much better view of things. We were really close to the ocean.

7/06 - When I woke up yesterday my computer wouldn't start, and I was at first worried it was wrecked, but then noticed it wasn't getting any power. I then realized none of my room had power, nor did any of the house. Water here doesn't come through pipes (I don't know if it does in the center of the city, but I'm sort of on the fringe) but relies on pumps... electric pumps. So there was not only no hot water, but no water at all. Luckily the stove is gas, so I was able to light it to make some eggs and boil some water (bottled) for tea. I'm told it was a planned shut-down to clean something or reset some power lines to repair earthquake damage.

In the evening I went to a little neighborhood festival in honor of St. Matthew with Gustavo. There was a Cumbia orchestra and a band that played, and I got to try carapulcra and sopa seca, two more dishes that are very typical of the region. Carapulcra is sort of like a thick stew with potatoes and a tomatoey sauce, and while I'm not sure what the ingredients in a sopa seca are (it means "dry soup," and for the longest time I was so curious as to what that would look like) it seems a lot like spaghetti with pesto. I'm not sure if it was basil though. There wasn't a lot to do there, but it was interesting to see.

And today, Monday, was the teachers' day off, so I got to sleep in and sit around the house in the morning. In the afternoon I went out with Magaly and tried a Chinchan desert called "suspiro a la limena," or "sigh a la Lima," which is a thick syrup of milk, sugar, and egg yolks topped with a rich and creamy merengue. It was really good, but quite overpoweringly sweet. After that I went to the CP (Centro Pastoral, or "Center") and hung out for a bit before we went to Mass. Afterwards we came back to the CP and talked to Lili and Gustavo about travel plans. Cesar, one of the Sodalites, along with Gustavo and a group of students are going to Huaraz, a town a ways north that was pretty destroyed by a avalanche 20 or so years ago. They're going to go to a bunch of towns around there, and I might go with. After two weeks of class Peru goes on vacation for two weeks for Independence day (the 28th), and they're leaving for 10 days on the 25th, so if I'm going to teach again when classes come back I have to plan my travel time very carefully. We'll see how it goes.

Tomorrow is my first day in charge of my section of the class, so I'm hoping everything goes well with that. When I was with the catechesis class on Saturday one of the kids said another kid called him something and I was thinking "What does that mean?" so my only big concern is that they'll insult each other and I won't understand. I have to get up nice and early to go into school, so I need to get some sleep.

Things I've learned in the past week:

The movies in the galleries don't display. I'm not sure how to fix this yet.
You don't value running water enough until you lose it.
When the electricity is out, Spanish speakers just say "The light is out."
Since the power outage yesterday the wireless signal is a lot weaker and most of the time I have to lift up my computer so it can see through the window.
Maybe it's the US in me talking, but I'll take Coke over "The taste of Peru" any day.

Wednesday 07.09.2008
Peru Pics
I've now been here for two weeks. How do I feel about that? Pretty good. There's been no huge single life-changing event, but I tend to feel like every little thing in life is life-changing to some degree, so it's all good.

I've been teaching my class on my own for the past two days, which has been an experience. The way the class is split up is that I get half of the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, 24 students in all. The class isn't huge but it could be smaller. They will be having a final exam on the 25th, so I have two and a half weeks to prepare them for that.

Other than that, life here has settled down considerably, which in some respects is quite nice. I've finished translating the blog, (Found Here, if anyone's interested) and I think my next project will involve the school's website.

Right now it's late though, and the downside of the teaching gig is getting up early. Until next time!

Sunday 07.13.2008
Peru Pics
Here I am again after a few days, and I've got some catching up to do.

Since Wednesday, my class has been going well, and actually gotten better. I'm getting to know the students a little better, and also how to keep them in line. I was a little worried that things would get out of control, but enough of the students seem interested in the class that it's not painful to carry on with it by any means. For a little while it seemed a little overwhelming, and then I got sick at the end of last week, and it can just get tiring paying attention to 23 kids (the number keeps on changing, doesn't it?), especially when I think about the responsibility that entails. It's probably a little bit like being a parent... In any case, things have made a decisive turn for the better are going well with teaching.

I had gotten a little lax with uploading pictures, but now all of them are uploaded. The pictures from the 7th-8th show some of the dogs I live with. There's one big momma dog and about a million puppies. Tuesday was the 11th anniversary of the pontifical approval of the Sodalite movement, so there was a Mass and afterwards some of us went to get anticuchos where the mom of someone who now lives in Lima grills them up right outside her house, and she draws a pretty good crowd.

As I mentioned before, I got sick at the end of last week, and on Friday I woke up with a bit of a sore throat and fuzzy- feeling head. Friday night there was a big educational congress held by the Sodalites at a hotel here in town, where the president of a university in Lima, who is a Sodalite, was a speaker, who talked about the holistic education that is part of the Sodalites and CLM's goal as educators. During the break, when people learned I was sick, they made us go to the pharmacy to get some medicine, so we left to do that. I guess when I spent some time at a pharmacy a few weeks ago I didn't witness this, but when you need pills in Peru this is what you do: You go to the pharmacy and tell your symptoms to the pharmacist, who plugs them into a computer, which tells him what drugs to prescribe. He asks you how many dosages you want, and as long as you can pay for it, you can get whatever you want. I got two dosages of two kinds of fever reducer/anti-inflamatory pills, which came out to S/.3.90, or about $1.30.

Yesterday Gustavo and I went down to the coast, which is about 15 minutes by taxis. Here they have "colectivos," which are taxis that only go specific routes (from the city center up the highway or from the center and down the highway) and you pay by person. They also cost a lot less than a single-serving taxi, which is nice, because while taxis here are pretty cheap (you can get anywhere in town for about S/.3 or $1) you can go through a lot of soles when that's the only way you get around. So the colectivo got us pretty close, but there's not really a great way to get to the beach from where we were. We had to hop down off a bridge, walk down a long piece of land that used to be surrounded by a lagoon, hop across a little sewage river (stinky), and then be careful about not stepping on any quicksand, which I did end up doing, but I got across it quick enough.

The sandy part of the beach was pretty, and there were some nice waves coming in. It was of course too cold to go swimming or anything, and I'm not sure if you swim there when it's warm. We hung out there for a little bit and then made out way back through the quicksand, over the stinky river, up a small hill, and back onto the bridge. We walked around the town a little too, which Gustavo said used to be a lot more active, but the main square was pretty much destroyed by the earthquake. A big wave came a good ways inland, and everything was built on sand and got totally unsettled. All the pavement of the main square was at different angles, and the houses around it looked like their floors had explosives put underneath them. It sounds like people are scared to move back there now.

Today CLM held a "rombola" fund raiser, which is a kind of raffle where there are a lot of prizes laid out on the table, and each has its own number. You pay S/.2 to draw a number, and then you get that prize, which could be a better or a worse deal depending on your luck. They had things like pens, stickers, stuffed animals, bottles of pop, or mugs. They also had a table set up for face-painting, which was pretty succesful, so we might try that again next week. I got the CLM cross painted on my cheek.

Since I've been feeling a little under the weather, I came home after that and have been laying low since. Tomorrow I start my second week of teaching, and after that I teach for one more week before two weeks of vacation for the national holidays. It looks like I won't be going on the missions trip to Huaraz, so I'm looking more at Cuzco again (where Machu Picchu is). Once vacation is over I'll be teaching for a few more weeks and then I'll be back home. On the one hand I feel like it's going by so quickly, but on the other hand, I've only been here 2.5 weeks, which seems like nothing.

Things I learned today:

In Spanish, Machu Picchu is given the title "the belly button of the world." This made me think of the English expression "the armpit of the world," though the meaning is obviously quite different.
In Peru, you don't talk about going to see the sea or the ocean, because what you're seeing is only part of the ocean, so you only talk about going to the beach. It's not like you're seeing the whole beach either, so this doesn't quite make sense to me yet.
Mate de coca is supposed to be nice and soothing, but so far I haven't really noticed any effect. This worries me only because it's supposed to be one of the treatments for altitude sickness. I've only been drinking the pre-packaged stuff though, so maybe fresh it's better. Some people really love it so it must be!

Monday 07.21.2008
Peru Pics
Again I've had a real busy week, so it looks like weekly postings are becoming the norm. Here's an update on what I've been up to:

My class has been going progressively more smoothly, enhanced by a discovery I made this week: Most of the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders have already advanced to other classes... the one I'm teaching is for the kids who haven't advanced. Put in that light I feel impressed I'm doing as well as I am! They have their final test this Wedesday, so today was spent reviewing past- tense irregular verbs and forming questions in the past.

On Wednesday I went to Ica to visit some friends from Anna's church who were down here on a missions trip, which was fun. I left after teaching my class in the morning and took the 1.5 hour bus ride to Ica, where I took a taxi to the hotel where they were staying and got to be indignant in Spanish for the first time. The website for the hotel listed it as being on the highway, so when I asked to taxi driver if he knew where it was I said it was on the highway, and he pretended he knew where it was... but he didn't. We drove around for a bit and he ended up saying it was farther away so he would have to charge more, so when we got there and I paid him what we originally agreed on he wanted more. I told him that I'd agreed on a price at the beginning because he said he knew where it was I told him we had agreed on a price and he told me he knew where it was, and if he'd told me he didn't I would have gone with someone else. In the end I ended up giving him the extra sol since I had mistakenly said in the beginning that it was on the highway, but he said he knew where it was. I told him that next time if he doesn't know where something is he should tell the truth and not lie to take advantage of a customer. It was an interesting new use for my Spanish, though! While I was in Ica I got to interpret the bible stories they were acting out and afterwards we played games with the kids at two different areas of the city we went to. After that I had dinner back at the hotel with everybody and then came back to Chincha.

On Thursday night there was a fundraiser for Armonizar, the clinic that CLM runs in town. It was at a hotel and there were snacks and 20 games of bingo, and though I had several close calls I never won.

On Friday there was a funeral for a girl who lived here in Chincha. She was abducted shortly before I got to Peru, and it's been a pretty big story around here. There have been fliers all over the city and in every restaurant and on every taxi cab since I got here. A lot of people think that the police aren't working very hard on the case, and currently there are no suspects. The girl's body was found in a ditch on Thursday, and though there don't seem to be any official details, people say the body was badly mutilated. The funeral procession was huge and it seemed like everyone in Chincha was there. We first walked from Fatima church to Santo Domingo, and then past the police station to the cemetary. During the procession several people were carrying signs and leading chants demanding justice, even to the point of interrupting the priest at Santo Domingo while he was talking, which seemed very strange to me. I realize I'm not going to understand all the things people do here, but it seems like there's a time for vengeance and a time for mourning, and turning the funeral into a protest isn't very respectul to Sandrita or to her family. But that's just what I think. The burial nearly turned into a mob situation with everyone trying to press in, especially when they were bringing up the casket. We were pretty close, but decided to leave early when things were getting hairy. I don't think any fights or anything broke out, but some people were getting very confrontational. I wanted to be like "Hey, it's a funeral!"

On Sunday Gustavo, César, and I went to La Calera, a sort of orchard/plantation thing. They have chickens there, and tons of orange trees and avocado trees. The whole area is like an oasis in the middle of a desert, which is because it's in a valley where a river comes down from the Andes. There are areas where the water gathers into little ponds, and César went swimming in one and caught some fish... with his bear hands. He said the secret is to get them to go behind some rocks, then you stick your finger in so they bite it, and then you tear your finger out the side of their mouth. At the end of the day we went home with some fish, some oranges, and some avocados.

Yesterday while Gustavo and I were eating lunch at a restaurant, he told me a bunch of gringos were about to come in, and a big group of probably 30 people came and sat down. It was interesting being with a Peruvian to observe the Americans and all the things they were doing that Gustavo thought was so weird. This restaurant had rotisserie chicken, and he thought it was not classy at all for people to be eating with their hands. I guess that's not the pinnacle of public hygene, but I explained to him that in the US if we're eating meat on the bone that's generally what we do. He just about burst out laughing when he saw someone lick his fingers clean.

Another interesting cultural difference that I think has come up before is the general lack of regard for organized schedules, and just a general feeling (for me) lack of organization. For instance, at Mass, when we go to Communion, people might go back to their seats up the same aisle people are lining up in, so people are trying to break through lines and get out of other people's way. And the driving... people honk a lot, and drive really close to each other, and pass on the wrong side of the road, and run lights... it's not as scary as the driving in India, and I think that experiencing driving in India has made the driving situation here pretty much a non-issue. My dad told me once that traffic congestion happens when the number of cars in an area exceeds a certain amount, due to people being uncomfortable with the number of cars and therefore slowing down, creating a cyclic effect. I have a feeling that if drivers from India or from here were put in the cars on the roads in the US, there wouldn't be a lot of traffic.

Anyway, the other day Magali told me that when she went to the US, she was so shocked by how disorganized everything was! She explained how in a store in the US you can pick up something from a nicely folded stack, unfold it, and then toss it on to a pile or drop it on the floor or something. That highlghts another big cultural difference here: customer service is not the noble undertaking it is in the US. You don't tip here, so I guess it makes sense.

As I mentioned, my class is over this week, and after that there are two weeks of vacation. Tomorrow I will know if it's okay if I go on a missions trip with CLM, but then I have to decide if I want to do that, or go do some traveling... That's all for now.

Wednesday 07.23.2008
Peru Pics
Today is a special occasion: it marks four weeks since my arrival here, and is also a second update this week.

Yesterday Chincha had a bit of excitement with a riot against the police to protest corruption and, more recently, their handling of the case of Sandrita, the girl whose body was recently found a month after her kidnapping. The answer of the mob to police corruption was torching a few buses (I'm told they made everyone get off first), assaulting innocent bystanders, and looting at least one gas station. Here's a video that doesn't really show much, but in part you can see the smoke from the bus station, which I pass every day on the way to school, and here's a news story with a video that shows the bus, which is just like one I've ridden on multiple times (towards the beginning of the video you can see the trees of the Plaza de Armas in the background). I don't know if the idea is to just raise awareness or tick the police off, but to my mind robbing multiple businesses, torching a bus, assaulting pedestrians, causing pretty much every restaurant and shop to be afraid to open their doors, and now causing heightened police security throughout town is not helping anyone out (I'm told the increased police presence is also due to another kidnapping that happened within the past few days). Their main demand is that the chief of police be removed, but I'm told that protests around here, which are usually organized on a more national scale, don't really change anything.

Today was my last real day of teaching, and my students had their final test. Classes aren't out until Friday, so we'll probably spend the remaining sessions watching movies. That should be more fun at least than trying to convince them to do more English...

I am now officially going on a missions trip. It will go from Sunday, the 27th, until Wednesday August 6th, and I'll be going to some pueblos around Huaraz with a group of some university students from Lima headed by a Sodalite. It won't be super-hardcore, but it won't be a cakewalk either. We'll be hiking at least a few hours every day to get to the pueblos, there will be a lot of time spent outside, and given Huaraz' altitude it gets cold this time of year (highs around 70, lows in the high 30s). I've been checking things off my list of supplies, and I got some nice deals off some vendors out tonight with Gustavo. I was a little worried about how I would carry everything I will need, but I found a nice, big, backpacking-y backpack, and was able to talk the seller down from S/.40 to S/.25, so it ended up being about $9. We found another one later that Gustavo was intersted in, and it was just funny watching him work. You just sort of pick out anything that's wrong with what you're looking at. He'd be like "This one is all dusty, this one's old, this has been sitting down in the corner, it's smaller than those ones" and you just work the price down from there, and then if they don't come down you pretend to leave (that's how I got mine). Tomorrow I need to buy a coat, because that will definitely come in handy. Along with my $1 gloves and $1 flip flops, I'm well on my way.

Going on the missions trip was originally such a huge drawback because it was during the time I was hoping to go to Cuzco, and then by the time I was back from the missions trip classes would be starting again so I wouldn't have much more time for tourism. It turns out I'm not actually going to be teaching again when the new bimester starts, so my current plan is to do the missions trip, come back to Chincha to rest up for a few days, and then pack my bags for Cuzco. Since I won't be teaching I'll have plenty of time to enjoy myself there, then get back here and enjoy Chincha for a while longer before I come home, which is just getting sooner and sooner.

I do have a few more days of getting up at 6:30, so I have to get off to bed. I'm guessing I won't really be anywhere near a computer while on the missions trip, but I'll be in contact before then!

Things I learned today:

I never actually uploaded this page after I wrote the last update... oops.
Some time back I accidentally saved a copy of this page over the main homepage at alexcoyne.com. I doubt anyone noticed.
The pictures link at the top of this page has never worked. Now it does!

Saturday 07.26.2008
Peru Pics
Well I've spent the past several days preparing like crazy and getting all the things I need, and I am just about to walk out to door to leave for the missions trip. We'll be boarding a bus at 6:30 to go to Lima, and from there we'll head to Huaraz and get there around 6 AM. I'll be staying at a parish there until Monday, when I meet up with the group from the university in Lima. So this is it for the next 12 days! I'll be in contact again on the 6th. Bye bye!

Monday 08.04.2008
Peru Pics
Well, I got back from my missions trip safe and sound, aside from being pretty tired and possibly a little sick (sleeping on the bus was not easy). And now after updating for two months, I'm finally in the month when I will be coming home. That's not to say I'm not enjoying myself here, because I am, and I've met so many great people and had so many great experiences here. But still, since I know in my mind it is temporary and will be coming to an end I think that makes me psychologically unable to really feel settled. Leaving here will be hard, but coming home will be nice.

So the missions trip took place over a total of 10 days, starting a week before this last Saturday, when I left Chincha. I think it will just be easier to go through day by day.

As my last entry indicates, last Saturday was spend in a frenzied rush getting things together at the last minute. I went out with Luis Enrique and Gustavo before we left for some picarones, which are a Peruvian sweet made from either sweet potato or pumpkin batter and then deep fried, so they come out like a very scrawny and crispy donut. Mmm... there's a lady who makes them outside Santo Domingo, the church on the main plaza in Chincha, which is luckily a few blocks from the Pastoral Center, so we were able to swing by and get some, eat at the PC, and say goodbye to everyone there. They do a rosary on Saturday nights, and although Gustavo and I tried to make a discreet exit we were spotted and everyone came out to say goodbye, which was very nice. Gustavo and I booked it over to the Soyuz station where we met with the group and took the bus to Lima, which takes about 3 hours. Soyuz buses are funny and always play obscure movies from the US from the 90s or something, such as Spymate (not from the 90s but genuinely obscure, at least to me!) and Freejack, to name a few. There was a little change of plans with my group's scheduling, so rather than waiting for them in Lima until Monday, I went on the bus with the rest of the group from Lima to Huaraz (pronounced "gwa-RAHS"), a pueblo in the string of pueblos in the alley between the white and black ranges of the Andes. We took a taxi to another bus station, from which our overnight bus departed for Huaraz, and boy was it nice. It had big, leather, semi-sleeper seats and we got to see a movie too ("My Life Without Me", weird). I slept real nice.

On Sunday morning I was woken up on the bus by an intense drop in temperature--there was condensation on all the windows and the bus was freezing. Luckily I had my sweatshirt and an extra blanket. We arrived in Huaraz around 6 AM. We took a little rental bus up one of the mountains to a little suburb where there's a school where we'd be staying the night. The school had a little country club sort of thing next door, so we got to eat nice meals, and there was a shower with warm water. During the day we walked around the suburb a little and looked at the mountains (though I didn't realize I'd soon have way better views) and hung around the school, which was nice. It was like having our own little compoun, and in spite of the very cold (not down to freezing though) mornings, in the afternoon sun you could get quite hot.

At night we walked down into town for mass, which turned out to be a lot longer walk than the 20 minutes we had been told. At one point we just decided to go straight down the hill instead of following the windy road, which I think was steeper than the photos make it look. We got directions to the church from a drunk man, who when we first asked was like "Oh I'm going there myself" and then at every turn would tell us "Just around this corner" and then "just around this next corner" and we'd be like yeah, thanks, we get it, we can see it. At the end he asked for a tip, which we declined to give him. We ended up going to the wrong church anyway, but the one we wanted was nearby, so we went to mass there, went back to the school (luckily in taxis this time) and slept in sleeping bags on a hard floor.... ouch.

Total elevation change between the school and Huaraz: 400 feet

On Monday we woke up at 6 AM to get ready to go into town to find a bus to take us to Yungay, the second to last pueblo in the alley, which is surrounded by tons of tiny pueblos up in the mounains that CLM had sent missionary groups to. To get into town we took several taxis. When the first one got there we started loading it up with bags and then a few of us went in it, and it was so packed that the whole way down you could hear the terrible sounds of the tires scraping the wheel wells. I was afraid a tire would blow out on the windy mountain road, but luckily we made it down to town just fine.

We ended up having to take two vans since all the buses were already taken for the busy weekend, and made the hour-or- so trip to Yungay (pronounced "yoong-GUY"). After arriving there and unloading our considerable pile of baggage onto the steps up to Yungay's Plaza de Armas, Cesar and I went to the church to meet up with Francisco, a Sodalite who was leading my group. With him we went to find the rest of the group, made up of Jose, a student from Lima, Christian, a German national who's in Peru doing humanitarian work, Jorge, from Lima, and Renzo, a Sodalite in formation. After buying a few supplies we needed, we went back to the church to load up a truck with all our stuff: about 2 bags per person, plus 20 or so large boxes.

The ride up the mountain was beautiful, between the awesome views of the town below and the black range on the other side of the town and the sheer cliff going straight up next to us. The trip took about an hour and a half, and at a few points the road was too steep for the truck so we'd have to get out and hike, which really takes it out of you at that altitude. After getting as far as the road would take us, we unloaded everything and set off on the hour-long hike to the town, which was one of the more physically demanding events in my life. There were amazing things to see all around--we were pretty much walking across the top of a mountain, but the biggest mountains still looked overhead. There was tons of farmland and animals and rocky landscapes, and it would have been entirely enjoyable under any other circumstances, I think--getting there is mostly uphill, and while most of it isn't that steep it definitely feels a lot steeper at almost 11,000 feet. When we got to the pueblo there was more stuff to bring, so some of us went back for round two... oof.

The pueblo is called Cayepampa, and while "pueblo" is usually a town, Cayepampa is really more like a small village. As we had to hike there, there are no roads within about a half mile, and the town itself is navigated by the little paths that have the town's water running alongside them. It was sort of cool to see that--whenever someone needs water for a field or something they just divert it off of the main lines that run along the paths. The town is a cluster of houses on the side of a hill, and in all there are about 40 families living in Cayepampa. Within the past few years most of them have gotten electricity and running water, though the bathrooms are outhouses, which are another more recent addition. They have a small two-room elementary school that shares a yard with their town hall sort of building, which is where we stayed.

Total change in elevation between Yungay and Cayepampa: about 3,300 feet.

On Tuesday we got into our more regular schedule, which involves getting up at 6:30, having morning prayer outside (it's a little chilly, but it's really cool doing it as the sun comes out over the biggest mountain in Peru!), going around to visit houses, and then coming back for breakfast. The first day we just collected information about families and where houses were and what amenities they had. Breakfast was bread and jelly with pan serrano, a chewy, not super risen bread that's sort of like a little ciabatta. They were so good.

In the afternoon we had catechesis with the little kids as usual, which for the little kids consists of us telling them a story about something (creation, Noah's ark, Jesus' miracles, etc.), the kids drawing a picture and coloring for a while, and then watching part of a movie. Today the movie was about creation so we talked about what animals were our favorites.

The nighttime routine tends to be: catechesis with the kids until a little before 7, when we hike down to the chapel for the evening rosary and songs (hike is hardly an appropriate term... the walk feels like it's just as vertical as it is horizontal, but the little kids and old ladies alike go skipping right along as we all gasp for breath). After singing for a while we come back to the room for dinner, then have evening prayers, usually play some games, and go to bed. One game we've been playing a lot is called "I doubt it" and every player has a little cup and 5 or so dice. At the beginning of each round every player turns his cup upside down on the table, but so that only the player can see his own dice. Then each player goes around betting on how many of a certain number there are among all the dice on the table, but each player needs to up what was previously said in certain ways... the numbers are also all called funny things that sound like the number but are other words (dos-dones, gifts; tres- trenes, trains; seis-cenas, dinners; etc.). The game took me some getting used to, but it turns out to be real fun (wikipedia actually has an article all about it!). We get to bed around 11.

Wednesday was pretty typical in terms of the day's events. More and more I was just struck by the people here. We were walking around to the houses offering to bless them, and as we were leaving one the dad came out and gave us what seemed to be fried cornmeal patties (yum!). The people here are mostly all poor, but they're always eager to share. They aren't well educated, but their perspective and insights are always so interesting. They are also very linguistically interesting: in the mountains the indigenous language Quechua (KETCH-wah), the language of the Incas, is still spoken as a first language. Almost every speaks Spanish, except for most of the older women and some older men, who still speak at least a little, but their Spanish is notably impacted by Quechua, which is seen in the tendency to end every sentence or phrase directed to someone with "hermano/a" ("brother/sister") and the abundant use of the word "pues," which is sort of like saying "well..." in English, only they use it pretty much constantly. Coloring with the kids is always an interesting experience, because it's like a sea of Quechua on all sides, with me understanding none of it. I'm not sure if this comes from Quechua influence, but the kids have novel names for some of the colors, like "lechuga," ("lettuce") for green and "chocolate" (I'm guessing people can figure this one out) for brown.

After the morning routine Jose and I walked down to Atma, a village that's on the road just a little ways down the mountain from Cayepampa, so we could use the satellite phone they have there (Although signal was mostly available in the mountains, in Peru you can't dial long distance from cell phones. I'll have to talk about cell phones here more at a later time...). Jose has done this trip several times and knows a lot of the people around there, so we stopped at a house in Atma to visit the family there. In this family, the dad has such severe arthritis that he can't use his hands or feet, and can't walk, feed himself, or talk. His wife carries him around on her back, feeds him, involves him in everything she does, and makes sure he's comfortable. In spite of all the problems this family had, she still invited us to have lunch there. I finished my soup, and when she took my bowl away Jose whispered to me "She's going to bring you more." The people in the mountains are so generous, and even when they don't have much to share they still will.

There are actually two little buildings with phones, but both were empty so we couldn't get to the phones. One had a radio blasting, but there didn't seem to be anyone inside. The irony was practically poetic: the technology is right there, in the middle of nowhere, but it's useless if there's no one to open the door.

On Thursday we had our usual morning routine, but after breakfast we hiked over to a lagoon that's at the base of some mountains. It's called Queushup (KEH-oo-shoop), named after a little nearby Incan ruin by the same name. The lagoon had this amazing turquoise-colored water and the whole "beach" around it was clay, which was all crackeled from the sun, and there were huge boulders everywhere. The clay under the water was totally slippery, which made possible competitions for how far one could slide after running into the water (I didn't win, though I did snag a close second at running out of the water, which was arguably more difficult). Walking around in the water without falling in was hard, and the water was so cold that falling was not something you wanted to do. We all ended up going in, but for me once was enough.

On the hike back we had a look around the Incan ruin, which is an old pyramid on top of a hill. From the outside it really just looks like a pile of rocks, but there are a few holes that you can look into and see the preserved interior structure, which I thought was so cool until I realized there was a door on the other side... still, the room I was taking pictures of from the outside was blocked off from the side you could enter, so it was still cool. It wasn't very big and there wasn't a lot of room or things to explore inside, but it was still awesome to think about being in a real Incan temple.

The hike back took a little longer than getting there (2 hours) and was a little more scenic. On the way we gathered firewood in anticipation of the farewell bonfire we'd be having Saturday night. The evening was typical, with rosary, songs, dinner, and bedtime.

On Thursday morning we had visited a house where the dad was making some adobes--bricks made out clay, straw, and water, that dry in the sun and have probably been used forever in this part of the world. In Chincha and other regions effected by the earthquake last year people who can afford to have pretty much sworn off adobe, as it's no so strong, but it remains a cheap and relatively reliable way to make buildings. The man told us that he would be continuing the next day, so Friday morning we hiked down to one of the lowest houses in the village, where he had a big old pile of mud and little lines of bricks he was making with a mold. You first mix the stuff, which must take forever since there is usually a TON and it's not exactly easy to work with, then you load it into a wheelbarrow with shovels, which is definitely honest work. I had the best luck just doing little shovel-fulls, but you have to chop into it first to break up the straw. Then you pour the contents of the wheelbarrow into the mold, level it off, lift the mold away, and start a new one in a little row. The bricks need to dry about a week, and apparently about 800 will build a house, though about 80 per day is maximum production for one person. I guess due to space and time restrictions he said it takes about 6 months to make all the bricks. A little boy named Yúnior who has this really cute little voice came up from his house to help us out. I first got to know Yúnior by helping him out during coloring time, since because he's so small he would generally stand by and watch. He talks a lot once he knows you with this tiny little voice that just makes you go crazy.

The whole group had a lunch date with the same family down in Atma by the phone today. The family again was so welcoming and generous--you practically have to refuse more in order to not be served, but of course you can't do this right out and at least for me ends up being "Oh yes, a little bit please." As we were down in Atma again I had another opportunity to use the phone, and this time our knocking got an answer--not from the building the phone was in, but from next door, where a girl who was probably 10 opened the door for us and let us in to use the phone, and sat there giggling as the gringo talked in English. I needed to call Wells Fargo to get some funds transfered, and while I know on the website there were specific instructions for how to get to their toll-free international phone help line, the people at the branch were thoroughly unhelpful and insisted I had to dial a number that clearly would not work outside the US for the whole remainder of the time left on my card, which is cut down to like a twentieth of what you get from a regular land line when you call from a payphone. So my much anticipated phone time happened, though it came to nothing. Boo, Wells Fargo; boo.

After lunch we hiked back up to Cayepampa and had catechesis with the little kids. It's really fun talking to them and playing with them, but trying to teach can be like pulling teeth. You explain something and then ask a question and all you get are blank stares. If you ask them more one-on-one they sometimes will answer, but in general it seems like they don't pay attention, so getting them to do that can be exhausting in the effort, enthusiasm, and repetition you put into presenting something. It's really satisfying when it pays off, though!

In the evening we had prepared a special rosary to pray for all the families of Cayepamp, as well as various intentions of the town and the sick there. A lot of people turned out, which was nice to see! After the rosary everyone booked it back to the school, where we'd arranged things for a movie on the life of Bernadette of Lourdes, which the people really seemed to like. The movie was French and was dubbed in European Spanish, which was sort of nice and nostalgic.

Saturday was mixed emotions--I was really looking forward to getting back to Chincha, which sort of felt like going home, though of course it wouldn't be the same. I was also getting used to our lifestyle and living with everyone in our little room in Cayepampa, though having personal space again was definitely beginning to sound appealing. And the people in the town had all been so great--I really just like sitting and talking with them. Most of them we're pretty talkative if you tried, and would tell you about their lives, and their problems, and their families. They were all really sincere and simple. Just trying to really think about a place like Cayepampa and really think about what it means that people live their lives there and have been doing so for a long time and will keep doing so is so interesting to me. I don't know what really thinking about it brings me to, but I still think it's interesting.

Saturday was our last real day in Cayepampa, so we had some houses still to bless, some painting to do around the school, and then we had lunch with a woman from the village who had sort of been organizing things for us and filling us in on the info of the town, like who lived where and who needed what. She made "picante de papa," a traditional serrano dish with potatoes, carrots, and chili peppers, that was pretty yummy. She is really interesting because she grew up in Cayepampa, lived in Lima for 20 years, and then moved back, so she really knows what it's like to live in both places.

After lunch we had some reading time, and then in the afternoon we got the last catechesis ready for the kids, which was on Jesus' miracles. We watched the end of a movie on the life of Don Bosco that we had started a few days before, prayed the rosary, and then had a bonfire back at the school. We sang some songs, and each of us "brothers" did an activity with them. I couldn't think of anything too good so I taught them the song "Bingo" (in Spanish of course). The other guys had songs with actions or responses or fun things, none of which exist in English I'm pretty sure. At the end of the bonfire we each made little speeches saying thank you for everything, and several of the people from the village had really nice things to say too. It's obvious the whole time you're there that the people really appreciate you being there, but then hearing them say it so plainly is really touching. Before everyone went home we passed out little packages of food and clothes we had brought along to all the families, and again they were really grateful. We spent the rest of the night (and well into the morning) getting everything we could packed up, trying to figure out what we shouldn't pack up yet, getting things reorganized, un-packing and re-packing, etc. We got to bed around 1:30 ready to get up nice and early at 5:30.

We all made our wake up call, but I don't think anyone was really feeling it. Our shower, which is diverted from the main stream of the town that juts off a little waterfall under which we made a floor of rocks, never gets very warm, and is unpleasant enough closer to noon, when it's warm outside. Trying it in the bitter cold of the 5 o clock hour is just cruel. When you're showering outside and you can see your breath, it just doesn't feel right. I think it helped those of us who decided to brave it get ready really fast, though. Since we already had everything mostly packaged we just had to get the final touches on everything and get out the door, which we managed to do by 7 as planned. Several people from the town had shown up to help us, which was awesome, because even though the return would be downhill and way easier because we wouldn't have the food, clothes, or supplies we came with, that still would have been a lot of extra boxes (and the gas can, which isn't so much heavy as it is really awkward to carry long distances).

We made the hike back in considerably less time than the arrival, as was to be expected, and had a little time to sit and wait for the truck to get there. We loaded things up chain-style as we'd become accustomed to doing, passing things along from one person to the next, which I don't think I'd ever really done in real life before, but it is really efficient. The ride down to town still took a while, but we got down with plenty of time to get our things unpacked at the house of a friend in town, get some things organized and returned, and get to church by 10. At mass I saw some of the people from Chincha, who aren't returning until Friday, so I chatted with them a little about how things had been going.

After church we walked around Yungay a lot seeing their cemetary and the old part of town, which was destroyed by a huge avalanche in the 70s. The cemetary was the only part to survive, since it's up on a hill, and now the surrounding area is a little park with giant pieces of the old cathedral and plaques commemorating the avalanche. The cemetary itself is really cool, because it's built as multiple circle-shaped levels and on the top is a huge statue of Jesus, which survived the landslide. It was really windy on top, but it was nice after the hike.

After looking around Yungay we did some final errands and then went to Caraz, the final little sattelite town in the string of pueblos in the alley between the white and black ranges of the Andes. It's a nice little town with a beautiful church, and it's just sort of charming and quaint. They do a lot of sweets there, and Francisco had told me about a beer ice cream which sounded like it wouldn't be a good combination to me but I was eager to try for his reassurance. We weren't able to find it anywhere unfortunately, but now I'm curious. They also make a lot of manjar, which is a paste made from reduced milk and sugar used in a lot of pastries or that can just be eaten plain. I thought I'd rather try making some so I didn't get any but boy is it yummy.

We ended up eating a lot of sweets and getting some dinner in Caraz before heading back to Yungay. Christian was off to Trujillo on an earlier bus, so we said goodbye to him before going back to the house where our stuff was and making the final preparations. The last bus wasn't as comfortable as the one I went to Huaraz on, but the sleep was welcome as the end to a busy day and a tiring but really rewarding week.

So I got into Lima early this morning, and from there took a bus back to Chincha (this time the movies were some kung-fu flick and Eight Below, the true story about a guy in Alaska and his dogs that I remembered from seeing it on the plane going to India. Now I'm back "home," or at least as home as I'm going to be for a while longer. It really has been a relief just to relax and be able to sit and rest and do laundry and stuff. I'm looking forward to a day of laying low and an early bedtime (I always start to feel sick when I don't sleep enough). Until next time!

Wednesday 08.06.2008
Peru Pics
So I just got back, but now I'm off again to do some more traveling. Tomorrow I leave early in the morning for Lima, where I'll be doing a bit of tourism before catching my overnight bus to Arequipa, a southern city famous for it's old-fashioned architecture and dubbed "The White City" for having lots of buildings made of white volcanic rock. On Saturday night I'll catch another overnight bus to Cuzco, where I'll be going to Machu Picchu before heading back to Chincha on the 14th for some more adventures! Until then!

Thursday 08.14.2008
Peru Pics
I just got back from my little trip, and everything went great. To recap, the action started last Wednesday when I left Lima for Arequipa to begin my travels and my dessert tour of Peru:

My bus for Arequipa was leaving from Lima, so I left Chincha last Wednesday morning to go spend the day there with Ricardo and Isaac, two of the Sodalites, before departing in the evening. Lima has a lot of really pretty areas, which shouldn't surprise me, but the only time I have really spent in Lima was the day I got here, and riding through Lima for 45 minutes or so to my hotel I guess I only saw the non-pretty parts.

We went to a part of town near the ocean called Barranco where the houses and streets are a lot older, but there's a really new tourist shopping mall. It even has a Starbucks, so I indulged in a latte. That was really nice.

We also went to a few churches where the movement has communities around Lima, and to the church where Francisco lives, so it was nice to get to see him again. In the middle of talking with him though it was time to go, since we were a good distance away from the bus station and apparently you need to get there real early. Traffic gave us some problems but in the end I got there just fine, and since I bought my ticket for the second level I got to see what that was like in comparison to the posh first level I got to ride on when going to Huaraz for missions (level two is not as nice, but cheaper). Mainly there are more people and you don't have as much room, but the seats are still pretty comfortable for sleeping on a bus.

I got into Arequipa in the middle of the morning, and since I couldn't remember exactly where my hostal was I just took a taxi into the middle of town to find somewhere to use the internet so I could check. Arequipa is a beautiful city full of buildings with white facades because of a rock called "sillar" that the majority of the buildings are made from. There is a lot of tourism there so you don't necessarily feel like you're the lone tourist sitting in on Arequipan life, but the city has a really cool vibe and plenty of amazing architecture to look at. Also, though it doesn't so much feel like it, it's the second biggest city in Peru, so you can find pretty much anything you would want there (I like Chincha, but every so often you just want to buy a book, or granola bars, or fruit snacks, and you're out of luck).

After locating Posada Misti House I went to get checked in, and although my room wasn't quite ready yet the owner let me leave my bag there so I could get started seeing the city. If anyone's going to Arequipa, I would highly recommend this place. It wasn't anything fancy, but it was cheap, it was clean, and the staff are very friendly, helpful, and considerate. It's also pretty small, so there more personal consideration and you're not stuck with 100 other people in a big dirty building. The owner was actually waiting outside when I walked by and was like "Alex, right?" He was a really nice guy, and after going inside I talked to him for a good while about the city, and what I should do and see and eat there. I always like asking about the local foods and what's good. A few of Arequipa's famous foods are "Rocoto Relleno," a type of hot pepper stuffed with a mixture of chicken and potatoes, and "Queso Helado," (yes, it does mean "frozen cheese"), a desert that is more or less like a slushy sort of ice cream with lots of cinnamon. Every town here has a big open market where tons of vendors come to set up shop and sell their goods, and in the upper level of the one in Arequipa there's a señora who serves queso helado, which is made by putting a milk mixture in a great big metal bowl sitting in another bowl of ice and salt. The milk mixture freezes to the sides of the metal bowl and you scrape it off in sheets and sprinkle it with cinnamon. It tastes like a less sweet form of ice cream with a slushy consistency, and it is very very good.

Also like any good European town with a strong Christian tradition, Arequipa has lots of churches! A big perk (as I would come to appreciate in Cusco) is that as long as they're open you're free to enter and have a look around. The cathedral was pretty, but a little disappointing in comparison to some of the other churches, such as la iglesia de la compañía de Jesús and la iglesia de San Francisco de Asís.

Also in Arequipa is el Museo de la Universidad Católica de Santa María, which houses the mummy of a young girl who was discovered in the 90s frozen in the Andes. She is thought to have been killed in a ritualistic sacrifice to the mountain god in the middle of the 15th century, and due to the frozen conditions she was so well preserved that they were able to run all sorts of tests on her tissues to find out loads of stuff about her and also about the culture of the time. It was a really interesting exhibit, but unfortunately no photos were allowed... and since you're with a guide the whole time it's not easy to sneak any.

In the way of meals, some other interesting foods eaten in Peru are alpaca (similar to a llama, widely valued for it's hair, which is very soft, light, and highly insulating and is used to make everything from gloves to sweaters) and oddly enough, guinea pig. On my last night in Arequipa I found a very hip and modern "fusion" restaurant that had alpaca on the menu. It was pretty much like eating steak, although the texture was a little more like pork in its toughness. Unfortunately they made it with way too much salt. Accompanied by a tall cold Cusqueña (the beer of Peru) it was a very tasty last meal in Arequipa. After booking it back through the Plaza de Armas and picking up my bag, which Misti House was graciously holding on to for me even though I was already checked out, I headed over to the bus station (in a cab they hailed for me so I wouldn't get overcharged. How great are they?)

My bus left from Arequipa a little after 8 at night and got into Cusco around 6:30 the following morning. I'd been trying to communicate with a hostel there I'd found on the internet for a few days but I hadn't heard anything, so I called them to see if it was okay for me to check in so early. As soon as I got off the phone there was a taxi driver asking if I needed a cab, who was really nice, aside from initially wanting to charge me way too much. That's why it's always good to agree on a price first!

Hostal Cáceres in Cusco has a sort of cool layout, with the entrance being a hallway leading to a courtyard on the inside with rooms on three levels overlooking it. My room was down a hallway on the third floor so it was along the front of the hostel overlooking the street. I had a sort of cool view, but the street got a little noisy at night. When I got in the room cost a little more than the website advertised (S/.20 instead of S/.15), and when I asked about the shower the guy directed me to one that missed out on the "24 hot water," although after asking day after day if there would be hot water only the last day did someone who worked there mention that only the showers on the first floor got hot water. The doors on the rooms also didn't feel very secure... I didn't have any problems with anyone breaking in, but if they'd wanted to I don't think it would have been too hard. The people who worked there were in general helpful and considerate, but it was a little bigger than my other hostel and had more staff. It wasn't terrible, but their communication skills need some work. If I went back to Cusco I'd probably look for a different place.

Cusco is extremely touristy, and there are so many tourism agencies on the Plaza de Armas alone that it's incredible to me they can all stay in business. If you wander down any of the side streets, or anywhere else in the city for that matter, you'll find tons more. It's sort of hard to get a picture of "life in Cusco" since it's hard to spot anyone who lives there, but early in the morning is the best time. Most people aren't awake, and out on the street you see citizens going about their day's business, men getting their shoes shined, kids going to school, people buying groceries, etc.

Cusco also has a market of course where all the vendors bring their products. The markets are set up in sort of districts, with a section for everyone selling fruits, everyone selling vegetables, everyone selling dry goods, coffee, or whatever, and there's always a few lines of people blending juices, which I learned to incorporate into my morning routine. For a little over a dollar you can enjoy a freshly blended juice--strawberry or mango with milk are some of my favorites.

One major drawback of Cusco's touristy nature is that you can't just wander into the churches to have a look around. Most of the churches (though not all) have mass, for which they're open, but otherwise you're looking at a series of entrance tickets. The S/.50 ($18) general ticket gets you into 3 churches, including the cathedral, and the museum of religious art, a very cool little museum with art by unknown and anonymous authors. They don't have anything famous that you'd recognize, but they have a lot of nice paintings and church parephenilia.

My biggest adventure in Cusco was going to Machu Picchu, an adventure which began on Monday, when I found an office where I could book my train ticket. I think there are buses that go to Aguas Calientes (the town you go to to get to Machu Picchu), but the main transport is by train, which is operated exclusively by Perurail, and there are three trains to choose from:

The top of the line is the Hiram Binham (named after the explorer who discovered Machu Picchu in 1911). You have to get yourself to Poroy, which is 30 minutes outside Cusco, and from there it's a $300 ride each way on a super fancy train with gourmet meals and such. I passed on this option.

The bottom of the line is the Backpacker train, "ideal for our adventure passengers." That translates to no complementary meals or drinks, which for under $50 each way was fine by me.

A slight tangent on the cost of going to Machu Picchu: The complete package from the agency involves pick up and drop off, the train tickets to and from Aguas Calientes, the bus tickets up and down the mountain, the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu, and the guided tour, for a grand total of just over $200. I've heard "official" reports that they keeping prices high to control the number of visitors in order to protect the ruins. News flash: there's no shortage of people going to Machu Picchu. Maybe the numbers are only where they are because of the high prices, or maybe the government realizes mountains of people are still going to come and is just cashing in. The money grab is definitely the idea you get from the bottom. If you want to pay with a credit card (in case you're one of those people who doesn't walk around with $200 cash, and that's if you get the cheapest package and are only buying for one) they add on an extra 8% processing fee. The tickets and everything are in US Dollars, and since I was paying in Soles I just asked what exchange they were using, and they were charging S/.3 to $1, when a dollar is only worth about S/.2.80. When I was like "Wow, that's a pretty terrible exchange rate" she said she'd give me S/.2.90, so it's a good thing I asked. In retrospect maybe I should have just said how about you give me what it's actually worth, but she made it pretty clear she wouldn't go lower and going to find an exchange booth would have been a drag.

My train left Cusco at 6:50 AM, and from there it's a 4 hour ride to Aguas Calientes. There's lots of pretty scenery to look at, but the ride does get a little long. When the train got in to Aguas Calientes I tracked down my tour group, which wasn't difficult but required a little looking since there were tons. The leader took us to a restaurant (I guess it was the easier place) where they made sure everyone had their tickets and everything before we got in line for the buses. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes winding its way back and forth up the mountain. Towards the end you get your first views of Machu Picchu, and when you see the little stone houses on the edge of the cliff it's very exciting.

The buses drop you off right at the entrance in front of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel at Machu Picchu. Rooms start at just $800 a night, with the fanciest options around $1400. I realize a lot of people visit Machu Picchu, but it still surprises me that they can charge prices like that. It definitely would be cool to be in the first group in Machu Picchu, though.

The entrance is just around a curve from the lost city, but a little walking and there it is, and that's pretty much the effect it has on you. It's not like it was life changing or anything for me, but seeing the whole city there with all its little buildings and houses and temples precariously on a small mountain top is really impressive.

The guided tour lasted 2 hours, and we were told a lot about the city, how it was discovered, how it was built, and what it was for, but the interesting thing is that since there are no written records of the city, no one really knows for sure. Some people complain about the Eurocentricness of talking about "discovering" the New World and all that, but in terms of Machu Picchu, there probably weren't too many people who knew about it before 1911. The guides, who are a lot of people from the region, talk about the city as a foreigner who has studied it, not someone talking about a place in their backyard and of their own heritage, which is very cool and adds to the sort of mystique of the place. Hiram Bingham was led up the mountain by someone in a nearby town who knew about the city, but no one had lived ther for almost 500 years, and no one knows exactly what everything there is for, so talking about the "discovery" of Machu Picchu is not innacurate.

A lot of Machu Picchu is made up of conventional construction, but the Incas are also famous for their highly artisanal building methods that involved shaping stones to fit perfectly together in a wall using no mortar. A lot of the walls of the more sacred buildings in Machu Picchu are made in this way, as well as the walls on a street in Cusco, and the walls at Sacsayhuaman (the really big stones are so rounded and curvy they always look cartoony to me). Machu Picchu has one stone with 30-something individual angles that goes around two walls, in Cusco there's one with 13 carved angles, and in Sacsayhuaman there are carved stones that go around corners. Thinking about the process of making them seems sort of impossible, but they did it somehow.

After the guided tour we were free to roam around for as long as we had before our train left, so I had some time. Machu Picchu doesn't really seem that big, but there's so much there. One section of the city is just made up of house after house and house with all sorts of little rooms and hallways that almost feels like a maze, and you often have to retrace your steps to get out. You can pretty much just wander for hours and hours and always see new things, or see the city from places you hadn't noticed yet. I guess it seems little because it's in a pretty restricted space, but somehow they managed to cram a lot in there.

In the end I left Machu Picchu after a few hours of independent exploration and with a ton of photos. (I narrowed them down a lot, but there's still tons, so you'll sort of get the idea of the vastness of things to see). I hung out in Aguas Calientes for just a bit before catching my train, which after four long hours finally made it back to Cusco. Due to the mountain paths parts of the trip are the train going one direction, stopping, and going the other direction on a new track, but since a lot of the time you can't see the new track or tell where it was it just feels like you're going back and forth. It got a little frustrating, but in the end we made it, and I was ready to go back to my hostel and sleep like a little baby.

I saved the majority of the touristy stuff in Cusco for my last day, Wendesday (or rather just didn't get around to it until the very end). I went out to the ruins at Tambomachay, planning only to see them and Sacsayhuaman, but when they hit me with the S/.70 ($25) ruins admission ticket, I decided I was going to see the rest of the things it got me in to! I first went to Tambomachay, an old Incan fountain and bath used for purification. Across the highway is Puka Pukara, a bit hilltop fortress that acted as a check point for people coming into Cusco, the Incan capital. Down the road is Qenqo, a big hill-sized rock with all sorts of little passages into it that was probably used to store Chicha (corn beer) used for rituals. Then there's Sacsayhuaman, the big one, which consists of lots of little ruins including what seems to be an amphitheater, and then some great big walls that stretch about 1000 feet. The walls are all made up of the perfectly carved interlocking blocks, and some of the stones are really big. It served as another defense point for the city.

On my last day in Cusco I decided to try the regional specialty Cuy, or Guinea Pig. It first came out all stretched out and looking very much like a Guinea Pig (head and all, luckily no tail though), but the guy then cut it up into a few pieces to make it easier to eat. It's small, and there's not a ton of meat on it, so you just sort of have to dig in. The meat itself was sort of like rotiserie chicken, though not as fatty, but they made it with this aromatic herb inside the body that smelled really bad and chemically that I think did not agree with me in the least. Let's just say it was not a pleasant bus ride that night, or rather it wasn't so bad after the first two times I threw up since I didn't throw up again, but I still felt queasy and just wanted to get back to Chincha. I haven't thrown up in probably 12 years, so not only was it sort of a matter of pride that I wasn't going to, but I also wasn't exactly sure I was going to since I didn't really know what it felt like. After becoming acquainted with the experience again I've decided it's not something I miss.

Luckily I eventually got back to Ica, and from there took a bus to Chincha, and from there got back to the house, which has sort of started feeling like home from coming back to it so many times. I'm always happy to get home and feel settled at the end of traveling. I think my mental state is sort of mirrored by the state of my suitcase: things gradually become less organized and lost in random compartments and you just want to get somewhere comfortable to sort it all out and remember what you have. Poetic, right? Now I just have a few days before leaving to explore Lima and another trip, and I'll probably be back in the US before I know it. I'm excited to do what I'm going to do here, but it will be nice to get home too.

Until next time!

Wednesday 08.20.2008
Peru Pics
My Peru adventure has come to an end. I got back to Minnesota yesterday, and now I'm just feeling like staying put for the time being. That does leave about a week of uncovered territory in Peru, so here's a brief summary of my final days:

After I got back from Cusco on Thursday I was looking at my last weekend before leaving on Monday night. On Saturday nights CLM usually has a meeting and rosary at the CP, and after the rosary there was a special goodbye for me, which was really nice. They made a video with a slideshow of pictures of things we've done here and messages from a lot of the friends I've made. After that there was a launch party for Raíces de mi Tierra, one of CLM's musical groups, of which they surprise-declared me the godfather (musical groups here generally have a godfather) so I was asked to make a speech and was given a RMT shirt. They sang some religious songs and then some traditional Peruvian songs, and Gustavo sang one song called "Suspiro," which means "sigh." The song has a part where the singer goes really fast, and people always like it and try to sing along. They also sang a Spanish version of Auld Lang Syne, and they thought it was so weird when I told them the tune came from an Old English song we sing on New Year's Eve. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone and think that I might not see them again, but the goodbye party was really nice of them, and made me feel really good about my time there.

My flight was leaving from Lima on Monday night, so on Sunday morning I got on my last bus from Chincha to Lima. Soyus is having some financial problems right now so they have way fewer buses running and you just wait in line to get on, which for me ended up being two hours. I finally did get to Lima, where I got checked into a hotel and met up with Isaac to see the city a bit. Magaly was in town for the afternoon so we had lunch with her, and then went off to the city center to walk around and see some museums and churches. Lima has a really strange cathedral. Parts of the outside have been remodeled and look really modern, but there they are right alongside the other parts that are still 17th or whatever century in a very non-harmonious way. At night we did a tour of the city on a double-decker bus, which was cold, but it was very fun to be all touristy and get to see a lot of the historical parts of the city.

On Monday I got checked out of my hotel and left my bags at the church where Francisco lives. Isaac went back to Chincha around lunchtime, so I spent some time roaming the streets of downtown Lima on my own before heading back to the church to get my bags, visiting with Francisco for a bit, and then heading off to the airport. Andrés, a Sodalite in formation who had been living in Chincha when I got there in June, lives in Lima now and drove me to the airport, getting me there nice and early for my flight. Aside from having to pay excess baggage charges (apparently the international limit on American is still only 50 lbs, although they didn't say anything on my domestic Airtran flight about my 65 pound bag...) and my flight being slightly delayed, I left Lima that night without incident. From there it was on to Miami, Atlanta, and then home to spend Anna's birthday with her.

After being in Peru for so long I'd sort of forgotten what life was like here or what sorts of things I do here and it seemed like coming back would be so weird. I've quickly settled back into Minnesotan life, and now life in Peru seems so weird to me! I guess it just shows what someone can get used to (that and my recently acquired endurance for cold showers). I'm super happy to be home though, and there are no more major travel plans in the works. Is this the final Super Adventure? Only time will tell. Until June... chao!


Thursday 06.26.2008
Friday 06.27.2008
Saturday 06.28.2008
Sunday 06.29.2008
Tuesday 07.01.2008
Monday 07.07.2008
Wednesday 07.09.2008
Sunday 07.13.2008
Monday 07.21.2008
Wednesday 07.24.2008
Saturday 07.26.2008
Monday 08.04.2008
Wednesday 08.06.2008
Thursday 08.14.2008
Wednesday 08.20.2008