Wednesday, June 19, 2013

6/8/13 Just a light hike for the morning….

White Cross in Urubamba, Peru
Well, the day started with a simple stroll to a cross on a hill in Urubamba…okay try again…today started with a full on uphill hike cutting across a boat load of switchbacks to the top of a freakin’ mountain. Oh yeah, I am definitely out of shape, but once I got over the “I’m going to throw up” and “I am going to tumble down this mountain” phase it was quite a lovely view of the sacred valley; a view that my photos just don’t do justice. It is just breathtaking on the top of this peak and not just because of the altitude, but also because of the view. A view just full of a cascade of peaks and valleys, bright blue skies and what look like the smallest specs of human civilization below us. Well, worth the “I’m going to die trying to follow all my fellow youngsters” who are all in quite good shape by the way. After enjoying some photo op’s and good stories we headed down at the speed of a light jog (I do believe that I prayed to about 5 various deities to make sure I was fully covered on the venture down) as we decided to head to the city; Cusco that is! Six soles and we were on a combi headed to Cusco. It was a quick trip, but we splurged on some “American” food, such as burgers, fries, sandwiches and Starbucks. Yes, I know when abroad eat as the locals do and so far we have… soup and pan (bread) for breakfast; chicken, rice, papas, pan and queso for lunch; and soup, pan and rice of some sort for dinner…needless to say I needed a burger and I’ll return to my Peruvian diet at dinner. Cusco is a little more fast paced and everyone, and I mean everyone, is trying to sell you something, but there is a spirit there that is unlike no other and though we were only there briefly, our stroll through the Plaza de Armas was memorable. But, back to Urubamba we go with more time for Cusco in the future. On return, a little dinner with the family, a little stroll around town with friends and off the bed I go…another day of hiking ruins at Pisac and Ollaytaytambo in the morning. To be continued…

Peru Tidbit: Dress in lots of light layers that you can add or peel off as needed. Even though it is cool in the mornings and evenings, it can get quite warm in day. So, throw your light jackets in your back-pack during your mid-day journey, but expect to bundle back up toward the evening or during random storms and cloud coverage.

View from the peak of Urubamba, Peru
Plaza de Armas Cusco, Peru

Yeah I did the tourist thing in Cusco

6/5/13 Market day…

            Well, I am on day five of my Peruvian adventure and an adventure it has been. I am starting to semi-know where I am, but my Spanish is still a bit rough. I left my Peruvian home to walk to the ProPeru office this morning for work and realized that I was standing in a huge market….Wednesday is market day in Urubamba and I had no idea. The sights, the smells, the color, the life…it was beyond amazing to find myself standing in such an unfamiliar setting. There were vegetables and fruits that I have only seen on the travel channel and a huge community affair with an intense hustle and bustle that I could’ve never imagined on my own devices. I woke up a little defeated, a little lost in language, life and South America, but the market brought some much needed positive energy in me and got me out of my “out of element” funk. This is part of the reason I left my home…to find something different than what I know…to learn something no text book or national geographic episode can teach me…to learn to be quiet and be teachable even if I feel incredibly uncomfortable with my deficiencies in language and international travel experiences. Along with having a better understanding of global health, I hope this immersion helps me to grow into a more patient, well-rounded, compassionate and open-minded woman in today’s go go go society.

Peru Tidbit: Cuey is the Peruvian name for guinea pig; just a little FYI for all of you that are curious about what you are ordering at the local restaurant. Also, it is polite to greet everyone in a room when you initially walk into a room in a Peruvian home.

6/2/13 Breakfast with a Quechua speaking family...

            So, I awoke today in my new Peruvian home and walked downstairs for my first breakfast. I sat down with my family in a quaint kitchen and quietly listened to the family speak….at first I thought the altitude was really effecting me, but then I learned that the family was speaking a language called Quechua. It was the most amazing conversation to be a part of in the morning and although I have no idea what was being said my family included me as if I did. I am not sure that I will ever be able to learn the language…honestly I am having a hard enough time with Spanish, but regardless I was having breakfast with a Quechua speaking family in which the grandmother was wearing her traditional dress….when does that ever happen in our day to day lives? After breakfast we went to the Urubamba Plaza de Armas for church, yes you are reading this correctly, I said church, with all the kneeling and standing included…even better it was all in Spanish. The church was beautiful and ornate with a gold laced alter and statues of various Saints along the sides of the aisles. The proceedings also included the celebration of the 25th wedding anniversary of a Quechua couple and I couldn’t help but stand in awe as I was a part of the occasion. Following morning mass was, in good Peruvian fashion, a huge festival for Senor de Torrechayoc, who looks a lot like Jesus, but has strange looking eyes. We followed the festival from the church in the Plaza de Armas to the church dedicated to Senor Torrechayoc across town and watched as flower petals showered the festivities and a large banner on top of a wooden chest was carried throughout the streets in his honor. It was definitely a site to see and lasted for hours, so after working up an appetite we headed home for the biggest meal of the day…lunch! Choclo maiz, which is giant corn that you peel and eat, along with rice, chicken and queso fresca made for a great Peruvian meal. Of course after lunch I reveled in my first siesta and then headed to my families other home in which we relaxed and sat with our thoughts as we stared out at the scenic Chicon glacier from the rooftop. I am starting to settle in….emphasis on starting as I am not even close to knowing what I am doing or, most of the time, where I am, but I will get there and for goodness sakes it is only my second full day in this country.

Peru Tidbit: In Urubamba the water is undrinkable in the tap even by the locals, thus all water is boiled, filtered or bottled. Economically, the first two are more common for Peruvian families. Many families that boil water believe that the water must be consumed hot…thus it is rare to get a cold drink of water as it is believed to be bad once it has cooled down even when boiled first. So, prepare yourself for lots of hot drinking water and juice.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

First Impressions 6/1/2013

 So, the first lesson I have learned about rural Peru is that internet access is very limited, especially if you are hoping to use your own device through WiFi, but I have been writing in a journal and will add the blogs when the opportunity arises and most likely add pictures later, but hopefully I can still share my experience…

The Beginning of a Peruvian Adventure
After five airports and essentially two days of limited sleep I arrived in the city of Cusco. My first experience in Cusco included meeting a Spanish only speaking ProPeru representative who was more than accommodating with regard to my lack of language skills and helped me to a cab just outside of the airport. (Travelers tip in Cusco airport: Taxi cabs are cheaper if you walk outside of the terminal versus the airport cab pick-up…a 5 minute walk could save you about 10 soles!). If you have never taken a taxi cab in Peru you will be in for an eye-opening experience and one in which you may possibly have a heart attack, so just hang on and hope for the best because the experience is absolutely terrifying! Once grounded, we walked into the office and met with the other volunteers that were ready to complete the final stretch of our travels, which included a combi (a shared taxi van) ride to Urubamba, Peru. I have to say that the ride to Urubamba had an extreme dichotomy that is hard to describe. On one hand the landscape is breathtaking, with large mountains, scenic views and clouds that seem to dance on the tips of the snowcapped mountains. On the other hand you notice the harsh living conditions with families sorting through piles of trash on the side of the road, and groups of people sitting along the rail road tracks trying to sell vegetables that are piled on the dusty ground. Almost every house on the way out of Cusco seemed to be crumbling and the poverty I saw along the road was like nothing I’ve ever seen. We see homeless in the shadows or hidden in alley ways, but here it was easily visible on the short drive I have been on thus far.  I arrived in Urubamba after contemplating the short stent I have had in the region so far, but arrived to an amazing Peruvian family waiting for my arrival. The hospitality that my host family greeted me with was a much needed moment of human contact compared to the two days of being surrounded by hundreds of people in an airport with zero human contact. They all gave me kisses, hugs, smiles, kindness, appreciation for attempting to speak the language, and of course food. There was a great deal of warmth from the family during our dinner in the cold house we were eating in and I can’t help but wonder what adventures lay before me in this epic Andean region…
Peru TidBits:
-Packets of instant coffee are not single use…one or two teaspoons per cups (whoops). 
-Electricity is very expensive, so shut lights off and don’t leave anything plugged in unless you are using it (Dad...I didn’t forget your words of wisdom from my youth and now really understand saving).
-There really is no heat in Peru (at least in rural Urubamba), so bring warm pajamas and during the day it is warmer outside of the house rather than inside of the house.
-All hand soap smells like baby powder, so you will notice the aroma everywhere!    

Riding in the cab in Cusco, Peru

Let the Peruvian adventure begin

Many lined up on the train tracks...I missed the larger crowd earlier.

Houses on the way to Urubamba, Peru