Archive for the ‘Peru’ Category

Last Day in Cusco…

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

I never thought this day would come.  Just as every twelve Fridays before this one, I was sitting outside in the patio of the school as the teachers said a little something about the student finishing and handing them their certificates.  This Friday though, my certificate was given to me.  I knew it was happening but, it was surreal.  I have seen so many people go before me and was always waiting for my turn.  It was finally my turn.

I am not sure what I am feeling.  Cusco is such a strange city.  I am definitely excited for a new place, a new lifestyle, a new country, and new people.  I am going to miss my family here though, a part of me wishes I could take them with me, well at least Belinda.  I am going to miss all my friends here in Cusco, though we all planned our departures really well, two of my good friends are leaving tonight, me tomorrow, and then everyone else a few days after.

I am anxious to go to a new city.  My excitement is overwhelming.  Fear is peaking its ugly head out.  I am not sad, though I will be sad to say goodbye to everyone here.  A new energy has reinvigorated me.

I thought I was ready for Cusco and I was wrong, but now after this experience I feel confident I am ready for Quito.

In an attempt…

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

to update my extinct dinosaur blog I am going to write some short stories of what has been happening in the past 5 or so weeks.

1) I was buying an ice cream sandwhich one day at a local store when a little girl, still in her private school getup walks up beside me to peer into the frozen treasure chest.  I guess she was in a trance when she walked up because she did not seem to notice me but when I slide the glass door open to grab my chosen treat she looked up at me and screamed.  I do not know if I had a scary look on my face or not but it startled me which then scared her more and she ran away.  I quickly payed for the ice cream, I did not want an angry mother or father coming after the big mean gringo.  I get mixed reactions from children here.  It is either a) I am very scary and they run away b) They laugh to each other as I walk past calling me gringo or c) the children learning English say, “Hello” to me.

2) One day my culture teacher took me on a field trip to a small town outside Cusco to see campesinos, communities living off the land through agriculture and raising animals.  We were walking along this dirt road when we saw two little boys playing on the rock wall next to the road.  I, until then, had not taken many pictures of actual people in/around Cusco as they usually demand money for photos, but I had an extra Nuevo Sol in my pocket so I decided this was a good opportunity to get started.  I asked the older boy if I could take their picture in exchange for the coin.  He was hesitant and began to walk away, the younger boy in tow.  Erwin, my teacher, began speaking to them.  The older one still wanted nothing to do with the camera and the younger one was just hanging out playing with his rocks.  Erwin asked the younger one where his parents were and he pointed off into the field where two people were working.  Erwin yelled to them asking if we could take photos and they yelled back in Spanish, but it translated to, “Yeah we don’t care!”  A small photo shoot began.  The little boy did not understand when we asked him to smile for the photograph and he was very timid with the whole process.  I showed him his picture where he was not smiling and told him that I wanted to see his teeth, hoping maybe a smile would come of that, but instead he could not stop looking at the photo.  I do not think he had ever seen himself before.

3) I can not remember if it was the same field trip or another one but Erwin and I were walking through the country side trying to get to a small town when he picked a bud off a tall piece of grass and began explaining why he had picked it.  He told me that if you put it at the bottom of your pants and walk it will eventually be up by your crouch.  I did not believe him so I put it inside the cuff of my pant leg.  We went on walking, talking what I was learning about, the United States, and other random conversation that I can hold in Spanish.  Thirty minutes later I felt something uncomfortable near my crouch and Erwin was right, the bud had found its way up my pants.

These are my last days in Cusco, Peru.  I leave this Saturday morning to fly to Quito, Ecuador where I will be volunteering for the next four week.  I do not know what work I will be doing but I am very excited at my academic semester being over soon.  I have the presentation of my final paper tomorrow, a 5 and a quarter page paper entirely in Spanish and I only used my head and a dictionary.  Then Friday I have my last exam.  I am currently trying to figure out my emotions as I prepare for all of this.

Updates from Cusco

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

While Cesar and the grandfather played cards I watched the BBC World News – catching up with the world that I have become somewhat estranged from on my quest for the Spanish language.  The reason I mention this is that one of the stories covered was Sectary of State Clinton’s to Mexico.  They were interviewing people from the streets, who of course spoke Spanish and before the English was dubbed over, I could understand what they were saying.  Every time I find a new sign of my bilingualism, I smile and give my self a pat on the back.

I have started my last class in Cusco – Civilization (I just had a time of spelling that word because I was trying to spell in Spanish and of course my laptop did not recognize it, another pat for me).  I have another student in my class, Samuel from Kentucky, a agricultural major who has ignited my desire to drive around the United States camping in national forests the first chance I get.  This class is more like what I would encounter back at UMW.  Little presentations, a lot of homework, and notes; I had forgotten what a college class was like.  The Spanish classes were different and my culture class was simply reading a packet a week and visiting different sites/towns in and around Cusco, neither of which were bad, but definitely new learning environments.

I have not met any new students in the past two weeks.  I was on vacation with my brother (which I believe has started a trend of him and I traveling the world together, at least I hope so) and my class last week was in the afternoon, making it difficult to meet everyone else since they have classes in the mornings.  Now though that I am surrounded by new people I can not be asked to go mingle, at least today, 23 de Marzo, I had no desire to make small talk waiting for the discovery of a thread that could lay a foundation for a meaningful friendship.  I thought of myself as a very social person, relying on those around so I would not feel alone.  However, with my attitude towards the new students today and with the arrival of David, the new boy living with us, maybe I have changed in this aspect.  I know walking to school with David is stressful – deciding where to cross, do I go now in front of this car, will he get left behind, should we take this street or that one.  Maybe I am crazy and walking somewhere with someone on the same route you have taken for the past 3 months is not stressful for everyone.  I wonder if I stressed out Matisse when I walked with him.  I will have to ask him.  Finding independence with in me is another one of those pats on the back moment.

I have also found a deeper connection with the family now that David has arrived, especially with Belinda.  For example, the first morning David was here – he showered and used my towel to dry himself off as it was hanging in the bathroom.  When we were leaving for school, he handed the towel to Belinda not knowing what to do with it.  I saw it was mine, Belinda saw it was mine and she looked at me smirked and told David she would give him a towel since he had not brought one.  This little unseen moment between Belinda made me very happy and laugh later in the morning.

A little Andino lesson for you all or ya’ll which is still a part of my English vernacular, which never fails to make the Europeans laugh.  I have seen little statues in the tourist traps all around Cusco.  A condor and beneath it a puma and beneath that is a serpent.  Today I learned they represent the three levels of the world”

Condor: Hanaq Pacha the world above, the sky or heaven

Puma: Kay Pacha the world that we know, the earth

Serpent: Ukhu Pacha the world below, the underworld

Much to my surprise this morning when I logged onto to EagleNet to register for classes I found that someone had already signed me up for the classes I wanted.  I emailed different people all over UMW, so the investigation will begin soon.  Until then, thank you!

A field trip to Huasao.

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

A public one sole bus trip about 25 minutes outside of Cusco and my teacher, Erwin, and I had arrived in Huasao.  A small town that is known for the traditional medicine doctors that practice there.

Erwin walked up to a woman standing outside her door said something in Quechua, then in Spanish told me we needed to go buy coca leaves.  Across the street at a small store we bought a small green plastic bag of coca leaves.  We returned to the lady and walked through a door with the sign overhead reading, “Medicina Tradicional”.

I entered a small dark room that smelled of animal feces with a blue tarp as the ceiling cover.  She collected the coca leaves from the previous reading.  She said my name into the leaves with other prayers, I’m guessing, all in Quechua.

She told me that I had studied two careers, which is true, I started my UMW career studied business and now I am studying International Affairs.  She also said that I was single, which is true (a tear rolls down my face, just kidding).  My interest had been peaked, maybe she could read my future in these coca leaves that we had just bought from the street.  I thought maybe if I had picked these by hand in the mountains then maybe there would have been more of a connection between me and the leaves, but I went along with it.

I started to ask the questions.  I asked if I would receive the internship I had just applied from, she said yes after I had talked to be there, which I am guessing will be the interview process.  Okay, I was believing her.  I asked if I would have children one day.  She said it was very far in the future, but yes I will have children.  Trusting again.  I asked if I would have a safe, uneventful journey back to the USA, and yes I will according to her.  More trust building.  I asked if I would be lawyer one day.  Yes, but there is still a lot of time before that happens.  A small bridge of trust was in place.  I then asked if I would graduate college in one more year, making my college career last four years, and she said no, it would take a little more time than that.  My trust began to wane.

It was a very interesting, authentic experience, one I really enjoyed.

Erwin and I walked around the city for a while and talked about what just happened.  He said she is very well respected in the area.

I plan on taking summer classes now to ensure my graduation on time.  (You are welcome Mom and Dad!)

Vacation in Peru with my older brother.

Monday, March 15th, 2010

I remember saying to myself at the airport, “I hope this is the longest week in Peru.”  Looking back it was.  Charlie arrived Sunday, the 7th, which was an uneventful day because I knew he had to rest if he was to be able to the next morning take off with me to Puerto Maldonado.  He drank a lot of coco tea, which is what most people drink for the first few days, an overall remedy to help you adjust to the altitude of Cusco.

I did introduce him to my family and before we left the hotel to meet them, Charlie made the incredible joke of (and this will only be funny if you took Spanish at Fluvanna County High with Mrs. Stevens), “Okay, I am ready for the biggest game of 1, 2, 3 no ingles!”  I laughed for a good ten minutes and I was so happy to have him there.  I have good friends in Cusco, but the inside jokes or the ones from long ago give me the deepest guttural laughs that seem to energize me.  It was funny to see him interact with the family, they would ask basic questions and to see him just smile his big goofy smile at them not understanding.  I enjoyed being his little translator, though his Spanish improved drastically over the week and he was having small conversations by Thursday and Friday.

Monday midday we were off to Puerto Maldonado for our first Amazonian experience!  A small jet packed with people along with a very bumpy ride made for a stressful journey for both of us.

Before we left, we read the guidelines the Posado Amazonas lodge sent us.  The one I heeded to was: Wear long tight knit cotton pants and long sleeve tight knit shirts.  I was wearing long pants and this black long sleeve shirt, was not cotton but this material for exercising in.  When we landed the pilot, barely understandable over the speaker system, told us all that the temperature was 96 degrees.  Picking my chaw off the floor, I collected my bags and stepped out into the bright sun, sizzling asphalt, and beautiful landscape.  The view was my romanticized idea I had of South America – old fences, buildings, cars, with touring trees and hot air.  We walked into the TINY airport without solid walls after Charlie had wondered around the landing area looking at the plane and the equipment the ground crew was using, “LEE take a picture of that…WHOA look at that!”  I wondered if I should have just left him there and let him learn how a small airport in the jungle worked.

Once we found the company staff, they whisked us off the bus.  We met some other people coming to the jungle with us, a young couple from London, the man from Germany and the woman from England.  The man I would later chalk up to being the third completely strange, a touch rude, German person I have met.  “He just doesn’t hold the social manners that I find normal and polite,” I later explained to Charlie while we were swinging in hammocks in the thick jungle air (where we spent most of our time).  We rode the bus for fifteen minutes to the lodge headquarters in Puerto Maldonado.  I unpacked the fleece liner to my jacket and my alpaca sweater from my bag, WHY I thought I would need them is beyond me, but thankfully, they had a room for us to store our unneeded items whilst in the jungle.  We all took another bus for forty-five minutes to the port where we would take a boat to the lodge.

On the second bus they served us a snack.  Inside the small weaved basket we found an orange, a Brazilian juice, Brazilian nuts coated in sugar and salty banana chips!  All so tasty!  When our guide asked Charlie and I where we were from I responded in Spanish out of habit, then English, but William noticed.  He began to speak to me in Spanish and we talked for a little while.  I will admit I was showing off a little bit to the other travelers, who I later learned made no attempt to speak Spanish.

The port only marked by a small bathroom building and a larger building which housed a place to escape the sun and buy water, sun screen and other things of that nature.  Down the narrow wooden walkway/stairs to the Tambopata River’s edge where a long narrow blue boat with a roof awaited us.  I was not excited by the boat ride, ever since that rafting trip water and I are not the best of friends.  Climbing in, constantly being checked on by Charlie to make sure I was doing okay, and swaying from side to side, we speeded down the river.  They fed us lunch on the boat, a healthy portion of juane which is rice seasoned with palilo, a Peruvian spice akin to turmeric and chicken wrapped in a banana leaf, so we could throw it over board once we were finished.

The landscape was almost too distracting to eat (however the Gilliam boys did finish first, Charlie and I both pointed out and had a laugh) a truly unique, new, captivating landscape.  I did not want to stop looking; I missed a few fork fulls of juane because of this.  I do not have enough command of written English to properly describe the views but I will post some of my pictures here for you all to see.

After the beautiful however terrifying boat ride we arrived at the lodge port, not before though seeing some macaws at a colpa, a clay lick where animals go to lick the clay for minerals, much like a salt lick farmers will put out for livestock and sometimes wild animals as well.  I have some pictures of them, but we were far off so you can only tell that there is a bird in the photo by their bright red feathers contrasting with the dense green.

A small hike through the jungle on a well traveled path for another fifteen minutes and we had arrived at the lodge.  A place that David Gilliam would marvel at with beautiful woodwork, thatched roofs, and only electricity for the kitchen is Posado Lodge.  Welcomed by the staff with cold passion fruit juice and an introduction to the lodge.  “There are no keys, no fourth wall in the rooms, light during dark is provided by candles and kerosene lamps, please only use our organic soap and shampoo (which I swiped when we left), and you must use your mosquito nets at night time or you will, literally be eaten up,” explained the lodge manager.  She introduced us to the office staff and explained that the whole lodge is slowly being turned over to the native people of the area in a program with the lodge and the local government.  In ten more years, the lodge will be completely run by the native people.

Room 15 for Charlie and I, three beds all with mosquito nets, candles, and an open shower in the bathroom.

The jungle is alive, the movement and all the sounds made me nervous that any of the thousands of living things would come say hello to us in the room.

After settling into the room William, our very entertaining guide, took us and our small group to the canopy tower, 25 meters high for a bird’s eye view of the jungle.  Again, the views were spectacular.  We could see the mountains in Puno, and Bolivia.  If one wanted to could you take the river we were on to Bolivia, though US citizens would need a special Visa that is expensive and a lengthy process to acquire.  We walked down the shaking steps and back to the lodge.

That was it for the first afternoon.  We ate an incredible dinner, all buffet style, but the food was second only to Belinda and Cesar’s cooking.

The water in the shower was cold, but it was a welcomed temperature.  The organic shampoo and soap smelled and felt amazing.  My favorite part of the shower experience, other than washing away a days worth of sweat, grim, and dead bug residue was being able to looking directly into the jungle while doing so.  A getting back to nature feeling came over me as I showered.

I was sweating before I was asleep.  I crawled under the mosquito net into my bed.  It was then a fight to see who would blow out the candle.  Charlie and I both tried blowing it out through the nets, but every time we thought we had it out it would flicker back to life.  I finally convinced Charlie to poke his hand out and take care of it.  We must have been an obnoxious group to be with – laughing so loudly both with our Gilliam laughs.  I fell asleep quickly to the sounds of the jungle.  It almost rocked me to sleep because as a child and well into my high school years I needed noise in the background, usually provided by a fan.  Sleeping in the Amazon jungle was not too different from sleeping in the Gilliam household in Troy during the hot, humid summer nights! (Hint, hint, wink Mom and Dad)

We woke up with the sun everyday.  Charlie and I had both failed to bring a watch, so we relied on my dieing cell phone for the time.  We had to be awake at 4 AM for our second day.  Most of the group was complaining, myself to a certain degree, but Charlie kept proclaiming, only to ME, “I wake up at 4 AM to go to work all the time!”

Another delicious meal – granola and yogurt, warm flat biscuits and ham, of which Charlie and I both made ham biscuits being true to our Virginia roots, if there is ham and biscuits they must go together!  The complaining started immediately from the Europeans.  Too early, so hot, so humid, by the end of breakfast I was ready to throw them into the jungle headfirst!  I was explaining how the temperature was not too different here than that of summer in the middle of the east coast of the USA.  The always polite and NEVER opinionated German responded, “But yesterday you looked like you were having trouble with the heat.”  With my entire diplomatic mite, “Yes…well…I have been living in Cusco, where the climate is much different.”

We left for Ox Bow Lake.  A short riverboat ride and a hike we found the lake.  We boarded our vessels, which we two canoes on opposites sides of a large wooden square and one of the guides started hand paddling us out.

We were in search for otters and piranha.  The latter I was not keen on finding.  First, the otters.  We had such luck with seeing them; we came just as they were going around the lake fishing!  The otters popping their cute heads up for a moment then diving back down, then resurfacing with fish in their mouths!  I was proud of my little camera for getting a good picture of the otters.  The otters are an endangered species of the Amazon rainforest.  With only 250 living in Peru now, we were extremely lucky to see, “Maybe the strongest wild family living in Peru,” explained one of the guides.

Next was fishing, but not just any fishing, fishing for flesh eating, blood hungry, and razor toothed piranhas!  A stick with a string tied to the end and a hook at the end of the string made up our rods.  Random pieces of meat shoved onto the hooks, then with a blop into the water, all we had to do was wait.  I did not catch any, which I am a bit thankful for, but three were successfully wrangled.  Scary little fish, their teeth filed to a point and were snapping at anyone who came near, I was happy when our catch was released back into the water.  The German, of course, being the endless peanut gallery of our adventure was “joking”, “Who do we not like, lets throw them in then we will catch some!”  Ha Ha Ha I thought, too bad the joke would be on him.

Paddling slowing we made it back the jungle’s edge and walked back to the riverboats.  The temperature was climbing along with the humidity.  The sun was unbearable, just sitting I was sweating like I was back in summer training sessions of cross country.

On the walk, we stopped at the house of the man who paddles the boats around the lake where he offered us bananas.  The best banana I have ever tasted in my life!  I know where I am doing my banana shopping from now on.

The before lunch activity was a walk to the clay lick where we might see macaws.  The boat driver stopped so we could check before making the walk there from the lodge.  No macaws were in sight so later when asked if I wanted to hike to it, I declined and retired to the hammock.  Guess who made a comment?  You guessed it!  “Since I came all the way out here, I am going to go,” the German said.  Thanks! I thought, but I know I will be returning there, so I am saving it for my next trip.

Our hammock sits turned into smashing into each other, usually I would start swinging and Charlie would grab hold to take my momentum.  Then with a big swing I would smash into him thus starting a small battle.  Again, the big Gilliam laughs could be heard through the jungle.

Lunch.  Delicious as usual, then a trip to the shaman and his jungle garden.  He spoke in Spanish then it was translated into English, but I understood the first time, for the most part.  We toured his massive garden and got to try a few of the plants start from their green growing vines.  I forgot my camera for this leg of the trip so I do not remember or have a picture of the plant that was the most interesting.  William handed out little pieces of the leaves and then instructed us to chew on the leaf.  “Once you feel something, spit it out.”  It took a minute but soon the end of my tongue was tingling and then numb.  The plant we were chewing is where novacane(look up spelling) originally came from.  Rubbing my tongue against my teeth to regain feeling, we left for the lodge again.

Charlie and I again found ourselves in the hammocks until dinner.  Yet another incredible meal in the rainforest.

Off to bed, again with the same nightly routine – fighting over who would blow out the candle.  A note on the nets – mine was loosely tucked under my bed making it easy for me to crawl into bed.  Charlie’s was a different story.  His was very tightly tucked in which made it hilarious to watch him struggle.  Falling, stumbling, and fumbling around to get into bed sent the laughter back into the thick air.  Another boiling sleep.

Awake at 7 AM for our last meal and goodbye to the lodge.  We said goodbye to William, our fantastic guide and left for the shoreline.  Boat to bus, bus to bus, bus to plane, and back in Cusco.

Charlie can attest that when he arrived I had grown very tired of Cusco.  However, after my short break I had a renewed sense of strength to make it through the next four weeks I have here.

It was an incredible trip, one I know I will make again, just longer the next time.  I am hoping the mud on my backpack stays there so I can bring back a little of the rainforest with me.

T-Minus 5 weeks left in Cusco

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Que paso en Cusco?

Mucho!  Well, not too much, but I have been living thus things have been happening.  Think I want to do a bulleted post…so here we go!

  • Found out that I have been incurring charges for using the ATM here.  Before I figured this out today, I was only taking out small amounts of money because I did not want to walk around with loads of cash.  Today when I saw all the little charges, I was not pleased.  Going to email BB&T back home and see if there is anything we can do about lifting the charges, I have heard if you argue with credit card companies they will work with you.
  • Have official news!  I have changed my flight home so that it leaves Quito, Ecuador instead of Cusco, Peru.  I am going to Ecuador for the last four weeks of my trip to volunteer.  I will be living with a family of three humans and two dogs and the dad is a doctor!  Hoping this means we live in a penthouse in the middle of the city!

I will explain a little bit of what I have been learning in my culture class this week.  Last week was just a very general course in the development of small societies and what culture is.

El ayllu:

a.     Is a group of families (anywhere from 50 plus families) living together in an area

b.     There is a curaca who was the boss of the whole ayllu, in charge of distributing the land, organizing the work, acting like the judge of the community when there was conflicted

c.     The 3 types of work for an ayllu:

i.     Ayni: Like a barn raising, all the community members available who work for the benefit of one member or family

ii.     Minca: All members worked together for the Ayllu or the whole community.  Like the harvest, or being canales, or cleaning them.  They would wear clothes as if it were a grand party.  The curaca was in charge of organizing this

iii.     Mita: The people working for the Inca (king), sol (the sun, one of their gods), or the imperio (building of public spaces like churches, ceremonially grounds or temples).  The curaca elected people to do this work and they would take shifts working, month shifts

Important gods in agricultural to the Andina:

  1. Pachamama – Mother Earth
  2. Tayta Inti – Father Sun
  3. Mama Killa – Mother Moon

Tomorrow I learn what each specifically does for agriculture but for now I know that each must be respected and watched for a good harvest.  Offerings and sacrifices must be made to each as well; as many as a thousand llamas would have been sacrificed in one day for a bountiful harvest.

On the personal side of things:

I have been doing well; I switched my classes from the afternoon to the mornings for this week, which really helped.  In the afternoons, there is no one else in the school but my teacher and me, so it is a touch boring.  In the mornings however there are people there, I have more energy, as does my teacher, and I retain more information.  Today I was told that for the last week of my culture classes they would be in the afternoons again.  I was not pleased, but Belinda reminded that while it is not ideal, I would most likely live.  I know Mom would have said something similar, I wonder if each kid evokes the same parenting from whatever parent they are with?  I think it would be a fruitful psychology study.

On an AMAZING note Charlie, my older brother arrives on Sunday!  I am so excited to see him.  On Monday, we are off to Peurto Maldonado to spend three days in the Amazon rainforest!  I was looking at the pictures today of the lodge we are staying at, which maybe I should have looked at before booking the trips but it looks like we are going to be staying very plush accommodations whilst there.  I only went off the adventure package they offered.  We fly to Pt. Maldonado then are take a two-hour boat ride up the river to the lodge where we will experience the jungle with graduate students and biologists doing research as our guides.  There is also a mud bath offered.  You roll around in the big mud pit then lay out and dry into a crusty mess.  It is meant to clean your skin to its pure, natural form, with my two or three showers a week I think it would do me a lot of good.  Today I smelled someone wearing cologne and it brought back found memories of always smelling fresh and nice.


Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Lo siento por no escribiendo mucho, tengo mucho trabajo en este momentos, pero tengo un poco que peudo escribir acerca de ahora.

I will start where I left off. Last Friday was Augstin’s (the spelling of his name, with no E) birthday, he turned 1 year old! Saturday was the party. The family went all out with every Ice Age movie decoration you could imagine. Bags, banners, cake boxes, etc. There was also a big balloon arch way for all the guests to enter the house under (which on Sunday, when they were all popping, made me very scared for brief moments, a big hit with the family, I was the afternoon entertainment). The cake was MASIVE! I will post the picture of it on here so you can all see. I was very excited for the cake, I crave sweets all the time here, which leads me to believe that sugar is injected into all the food in the USA. The party started around 5 pm with loads of screaming children all trying to grab a balloon at the top of the ceiling. Some were cute and funny, others…well I am reconsidering my adoption ideas. They hired a clown as entertainment. He was funny, from the little I could understand, the kids thought he was a riot! He did magic, puppet shows, and had everyone dancing at one point.

This time for the singing of Happy Birthday I was prepared, having learned from Belinda’s celebration that the English version is sung first then Spanish, so I was right in tune with both songs this time!

Augstin did not understand what was going on, guess that is to be expected of a one year old. He was not really interested in the presents, just the wrapping paper. Belinda has played his guitar more than he has.

They had Roxi, the girl who helps out around the house (fairly common here), watch the clown set up and break down his “outfit” in the back room to make sure, I’m guessing, he did not steal anything.

I gave Augstin an aplaca sweater and a children’s book. Gatos con Botas I am told is very famous here and my teacher was surprised when I did not recognize it during class one day.

I am gaining the full spectrum of birthdays here and I believe another is coming up, I’ll keep you posted…promise!!

My break during class is almost over and I must jet.

More to come later!

Weekday tappings

Thursday, February 25th, 2010


For the next six weeks, I am taking history and culture classes.  My classes are in the afternoon and I am the only student.  The first day was great in the first two hours, but the last two were difficult. Grammar lessons are now a thing of the past.  With their passing, my reading skills in Spanish also passed away.  The lectures I now read are academic Spanish, which means the longest words I have ever seen.  Each one taking forty five seconds to a minute to read.  I can feel my teacher’s frustration and I can definitely feel mine.  Patience with my reading he told me, but he reads every other paragraph now.  That does help – hearing the large words, but I feel like I have regressed with my Spanish.  Last week I was very proud of myself.  In most situations I can explain everything I want to say, also mostly understand what someone says to me.  I was explaining stories with some speed, the words just coming to me, the conjugations being natural (no longer writing them on a chalkboard in my head).  Now I afraid that has left, but my teacher keeps explaining that this will really help my Spanish.  I know he is right, but I had more fun when it was easier!  Today we are going the Inca Museum in Cusco and I am excited about that.

Today I booked the trip to the Amazon for my brother and I.  After the jungle, we will go the desert!  To be very honest I did not expect myself to be so excited to see my brother, but I cannot wait to see him and to share this experience with him!


Four hours is a longgg class.  It is very difficult to get through the whole time.  Another difficult aspect is the questions about the USA.  Every teacher I have had, except one, asks questions that, if answered, would force me generalize to the WHOLE country.  I always explain that it is not possible to answer with one answer and they usually respond with something like, “What do you know? Anything?”  Examples:  What do Americans eat for lunch?  What car company embodies America? That one was my favorite from yesterday.  I just gave my teacher what he wanted and I told him Chevrolet.

Weekend Stories…

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

With another trip to Puno planned, I was very cautious with everything I ate on Friday.  I did not want a repeat of my last attempt to travel to Puno.  You all remember my weekend in the hospital, well this time I wanted that weekend to spend exploring the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, not have nurses change out my IV fluid.  Lake Titicaca is the world’s largest highest navigable lake, with this title, I was expecting it to be out of this world and I was not let down.  Magnificent, massive, menacing and murky.  Magnificent because I was standing in Peru and could barely see Bolivia across the line of water, which if I didn’t see the mountains on the other side I would have thought that it could be the ocean.  Massive, we grumbled along in a boat for half an hour and did not even touch the surface of the smallest part of the lake.  Menacing because after my white water rafting near death I am not a fan of water, and murky because…the water was murky (and to keep the alliteration of Ms going).   That is the middle of the trip.  I will start on Friday night.

Belinda gave me dinner, “Vas a necesitar comida en su estomago por su viaje.”  I enjoyed the egg, bread, and rice.  I left my house at nine pm to meet my two friends.  They had not eaten so I had a coke while they ate chicken and french fries.  We went to another restaurant and had a beer.  Charlie you will be proud, I have found a beer that I like here.  Cusquena Negro is a dark ale, I guess, that is not overpowering and I can drink the better half of one.  That was the first mistake, to drink alcohol before boarding a bus for seven hours.  With the release of ADH from my posterior pituitary gland telling my kidneys to release all fluid and a bus bathroom with out a handle to open the door I had to keep faith that I would not pee my pants during the night.  I did not pee my pants, but I did not sleep very well in the lower “First-Class” deck of the bus.  With the smell of wet dog, around eighty degree temperatures, and the frequent stops to pick up stowaways the trip to Puno was miserable.  At five A.M., my first stop in Puno was the restroom.

A lady met us and took us to a hostel where we waited until eight thirty for our lake tour guide.  We explored Puno a little bit by looking for a place to eat breakfast.  A cheap enjoyable egg sandwich was found at a small French bakery.  Dragging our feet, we barely moved back through the wet streets of a foggy Puno to find our guide waiting for us.  We drove through Puno picking up other tourists, from Brazil, Chile, and Japan, and then went to the dock.  Tourist traps lined the boardwalk to our small boat with a Toyota gearshift and steering wheel.  Trolling along a guide explained about the islands, the lake, Puno, and other things in Spanish and English.  With white knuckles, I climbed to the top of the boat for better views of the lake.  I felt like I was back in Virginia with my Uncle Bob out on Lake Anna to fish.  Lake Anna does not even compare to the size of Titicaca but the smell, temperature, and weeds growing up past the water line all tugged on fond memories fishing with cousins.  On the horizon we could see small brown buildings growing, we were coming upon the floating islands of Uros.

Nothing like I have never seen before except maybe in a museum, I do not think I blinked during our visit.  The motor shut off and we drifted towards one of the islands.  Very carefully with the helping hand of a friendly Uro person.  I jumped from boat to island.  Sinking with some steps more than others I was ensure of my safety on this islands made completely of totora reeds and their thick underwater roots.  We sat down on a cylinder totora reeds covered with a thick blanket.  The short lesson taught me this.  The Uros people did not always live on the lake, fleeing from the Incas forced them onto the water.  In the very beginning, they put everything on their boats.  Building small houses and kitchens on boats, more than one family could live on a boat.  As time went on the boats, made from the totora weeds, would deteriorate so they kept adding layers on top of the old boat bases.  These grew larger and larger into the size of small islands.  Just stacking the weeds made for islands that had to be maintained all the time.  They then switched to the root layers anchored together and stacked the dry totora weeds on top of that.  Every eight months they have to add new layers of dried totora weeds.  The totora weed is used for their houses, boats, islands, and food.  It contains a lot of iodine that keeps their teeth in beautiful condition.  We were able to eat some as well; similar to celery there was a lot of water and almost no taste.

They now have solar panels that provide lights and radio.  There are elementary schools, small stores that provide very basic goods and very small restaurants (mainly for the tourists) on the islands now.  They still have to go to the main land to barter for goods not available on the islands.  Tourism is increasingly their main source of income.  They wore traditional clothing, but they invited us into their homes where I saw modern clothing hung up in the corner.  We took a short ride in one of their totora weed boots, which was very relaxing.  We left on our motorized boat.

Back in Puno we ate lunch.  I had my first ceviche.  Again, like the cuy, it was not bad however; I am not anxiously awaiting my next plate of it.  I would eat ceviche before I ate cuy again.  I have noticed that I enjoy spicy food more here.  Maybe finally I will be able to handle my dad’s homemade salsa.

We climbed up to a concord statue that looked for Puno and the lake.  The sign there read, “4,000 meters above sea level”.  It looked like if you could just jump a little higher you could touch the clouds.  Cody had brought wine.  A semi-seco, semi dry bottle from Peru, it was brown but I really enjoyed it.  After the bottle, we were all talking freely about our experience in Peru.  We all agreed that something like this really makes you appreciate your homeland.  I know I will definitely enjoy the USA more when I return.  That is not to say I am not happy here, quite the opposite now.  After just sitting, drinking wine and talking at 12,000 feet in the air looking over the lake for 4 hours we walked down to the city for dinner.  After dinner, we made our way to the bus station where we upgraded to first class with Tour Peru.  The trip back to Cusco was 100% better.  Massive leather seats, not sitting oven, no stowaways and less people made for a comfortable ride back.  I did notice last night (Sunday evening) that my iPod was stolen from my backpack on the way to Puno.  I now have to be stationary with my music until I return home, not the end of the world I know.

For a long time I was very homesick, I still think about home a lot but I am more comfortable with my life here than before.  I am not sure what has caused this change and I know that it is due to more than one factor.  I do know though, that having a more solid friend base has made me much happier.  There are not many people at the school now, maybe 20 students taking classes and 10 or 15 more volunteering in Cusco.  BUT the group of people at the school are all fantastic AND staying here either longer than me or leaving just before I do.  I no longer have to say goodbye to friends every week.  Creating bonds that are more substantial has really boosted my spirits.  Speaking of those awesome people, yesterday I went to my first proper futbol (that is soccer for all you USA citizens!) in South America! I think my first one ever, but I cannot remember if I went to one during my brother’s time as a goalie.  We bought little soccer ball horns outside the stadium and I wore a red Cusco jersey.  There was a big crowd, the road around the stadium had been shut down to traffic.  There were vendors of food and futbol things, hats, jerseys, balls, horns, etc.  I imagine all the people around became quite annoyed with us, we were a little band of cheap horns.  The girls from England were yelling all the proper commands that the Cusco team should have preformed.  I just yelled, “VAMOS,” a whole lot.  Cusco lost, I was told that they were a horrible team; even my untrained eye could come to the same conclusion.  I loved the soccer match though; I really want to go to one in Europe now.

Speaking of soccer I played in my first proper South American match as well!  One of the teachers invited me to play last Thursday.  I was hesitate at first, telling him that I had never played before.  He told me it did not matter; I decided why not, it would be fun.  I ended up telling more people and we had a little gringo army for the soccer match.  It was funny because we showed up thinking it would just be us, we were very wrong.  It was a gringo reunion.  It seemed like every person I have seen in Cusco who is not from Cusco was there.  There are three concrete courts.  We jumped on the court and I was prepared to make a fool of myself.  We also did not realize it was a tournament set up and we could not just jump in.  We were laughing that they just did not want us to play.  Thirty minutes later we were informed that we would not be able to play, more people had the courts after us and our time was up.  We really laughed at this because it reinforced that they really did not want us to play (it was not that way, but we had a really good laugh).  We moved to the half lit court and just kicked the ball around ourselves.  I thankfully did not fall once we really started playing and I was surprised that I was not completely horrible.  I made one goal!  It was difficult playing though; I was huffing the whole time.  I was tired for the whole of Friday.  I think I may just train up for the rest of the time here and return as the next David Beckham.

More from the weekend

Friday, February 19th, 2010

I’ll just go off the list I left for you all last time.
1. I was walking home from my day trip, it was dusk so I guess the lighting was hitting my good side just right when a person grabbed my arm. I looked and in Spanish was asked if I would like “Services” then “Sex”. Very quickly I pulled my arm back to myself and said, “No, gracias.” Not very exciting but it was very strange because, for some reason I do not know, I was thinking to myself, “Why have I never been talked to by a prostitute?” Well now I have and I do not feel any different. My lack of daily showers (there is not always hot water) must be giving me a certain musk that people find very attractive because later that night I went to a club with friends. Straight away, someone grabbed my arm, attempting to pull me over to dance. I struggled and broke free.
2. On Sunday evening, I went with friends to a bar called KM 0. It is in San Blas, the area in Cusco known for having excellent live music – it is true! I was enjoying myself with the small crowd and big music, especially the saxophone. I was just looking around when the eyes of a man across the room waved me over. I did not stand up immediately. He kept waving so I walked over. It was very loud so the usual, “Where are you from?” “Where are you from?” “WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” banter went on. Every stranger I meet here I tell them that I am from Belgium. For Matisse this was true so I know how to say it in Spanish. He then showed me a small bag of a white powder. I stood up and walked very quickly back to my table, “No, gracais!”
3. I have mentioned Carnival before I know, well Sunday was THE day for Carnival in Cusco, at least that was what I was told. Romi and I met her friends from Cusco. Peruvian men who do not like me very much. Why? I am not sure. Romi and I already had water guns and had prepared water balloons, the others prepared for battle by purchasing ammo. We started our trek to the Plaza de Armas. We were on high alert, Code Red after a few attempted ambushes on the walk there. Once we had finally arrived to the Plaza we only heard screaming and laughter, the war was ON! We walked in formation to the fountain, where all the action was. All I remember hearing, aside from bubbling shaving cream in my ears was, “GRINGOS GRINGOS GRINGOS!” The children were small so this was the first sign of an attack. BAM! Water balloon to the back, rush to turn around to fight off another! Laughing the whole time, I really enjoyed myself. Groups of people were in the backs of trucks with buckets of water, water guns, and water balloons were the B-17’s of the Carnival. It was really a unique experience, even though the children targeted us for being gringos I felt a sense of connection with everyone at the Plaza. A human connection, I had a feeling of a human family. It did not matter that we were all strangers – we could still play and through water on each other. Innocence relived for a day.
4. After the water war, I was exhausted. I left the group to head home. My family had been playing as also. Their hair was very wet during lunch. After a plate of eight potatoes, of which I only ate three. My favorite was the sweet potato. Will be of the first foods I eat when I return home. After lunch I fell asleep, this was around two in the afternoon. Around four I woke up to thunder and lighting. I stayed in bed and pulled the curtains back. Then hail started falling, hard and fast. I rolled back over, “Not going anywhere now.” I slept until the next day.