Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lies and Cries

I have been at Casa Acogida for 4 days now and I absolutely love it and all the girls there. There are only about 6-8 girls that are there during our time because the others are in classes during that time. On Friday I took some pictures of them while they were cooking lunch and they made me promise to print off copies for them to bring back on Monday. They were so excited when I gave them their pictures and they went around and showed them off to everyone before hanging them up in their rooms.

One girl in particular named Juanita has grown attached to me already. She told me that all of her family back in Lima where she is from is dead so now we are sisters and that I need to break her out of the shelter and take her back to the United States with me. She constantly hugs me and won’t leave my side. She is only 12 years old, yet she told the shelter when she arrived that she was 16 so that she would only have to spend 2 years there instead of 6. I am suffering from a moral dilemma right now as to whether I should keep my promise to Juanita to not tell anyone or whether I should go tell the directors that she lied and they need to check out her real age. She also told me that she had a 27 year old blonde haired 6 foot tall boyfriend from Switzerland waiting to marry her in Lima when she gets out of the shelter. I have a feeling that like girls back in America, these girls have behavioral problems too. Juanita obviously has a problem with lying and I think some of the other girls have self esteem issues by the way they pose and “smile” in pictures and the way they dance.

On Monday we danced with the girls to some of their Latin music and I tried to teach them some of the salsa moves I learned, but of course they already knew most of them and were way better than me. Afterward, they taught us a game with clapping and moving cups that got harder and harder the faster we did it.

Yesterday we painted pictures of our friends and most influential people in our lives and then played volleyball.

Today we were able to take the girls out to a public pool to go swimming. We had to pay S1.50 for each of them (about 6 girls) but they had a lot of fun and even though none of us volunteers went in because to us it was too cold and to be honest pretty dirty, they enjoyed getting out of the shelter to have some free time with just us girls and no adults.

We have planned to do make-overs tomorrow and Yoga on Friday.

I am enjoying my last days in Cusco with the many friends I have made here and hoping not to break down and cry when I have to say goodbye to them in just a couple days. Tonight we are going to trivia and then to the San Pedro volunteer house to play card games on their roof top balcony. I have mixed feelings about leaving: I am sad to leave the place I have called home for the past 2 months, but excited to get back to my family and friends back in the States. I will miss the work I have been doing here all summer and the people I have been spending time with. It is a bitter sweet feeling as I think about Saturday afternoon when I will take my two large suitcases full of souvenirs to the airport to start my almost 24 hour long journey back home via Lima and JKF- NYC. I will spend the next 2 days embracing all of Cusco and soaking up every last bit that I can as I finish up my work and go out on the town with my new friends from all over the world.

One last funny note… who would have ever thought they dressed their dogs up in clothes in Peru? Well the ones that aren’t strays are very fashionable and may even beat Tito and Rosie on the runway for best dressed. I have seen numerous dogs of all shapes and sizes dressed in clothes of all kinds. I thought it was odd that in a country like this, they would do something so superficial like we do in the United States.

Wish me a safe flight home and I will see you all very soon. Look forward to your awesome presents! I love you all and can’t wait to see you. Hasta luego for now, but not for long.


Church and Futbol

Sunday morning Bryant, Brittany, Liam and I went to the large cathedral in the Plaza de Armas for a 9:00 am Catholic Church service. Bryant was the only one of us who was religious but it was still cool to experience how church is in Spanish and in South America.

It was my first time actually inside a Cusco church because usually you have to pay to go inside them by buying a tourist ticket and going after the services. The inside was beautiful! It had high ceilings and old paintings hung all over the walls. There were gold gates surrounding areas like the center where the music played and toward the front where some candles were lit. The many rows of pews were dark shiny wood and there were pillars that reached the ceiling with podiums attached where the priests used to go to talk in.

Many things were different from a service back home. Some people were standing all over and leaning up against the pillars instead of sitting down in the pews to listen. It was not silent while the priest spoke either and some people were not even paying attention to him but rather they were kneeling and praying to themselves or over to the right side praying to a large statue of Christ on the Cross surrounded by fresh flowers. This really tested my Spanish and made me realize I may not be as good as I thought I am because it was hard to follow what he was saying. Although, I did understand when he the many times he said “en el nombre del padre, su hijo y espirito de santo” while making the three point sign from the forehead to each shoulder. The priest held a microphone so that the enormous church and its crowd could hear his homily (a Catholic sermon). He wore a long green robe and sat in a chair at the front of the church that almost resembled a king’s throne.

The crowd was a mixture of all different kind of people. There were other gringos like us, some coming for the experience and just to look around and others that were there to actually pray. There were wealthy families dressed in their Sunday best, indigenous women with their long braided hair, people in jeans and t-shirts, and even some men in uniforms that stood reverently in back.

We went home to have lunch and then went with the new Minnesota couple and Liam to a soccer game. The teams playing were Cusco (Cienciano) and Lima (Universitario). Apparently the Lima team was from an upper class area and was snobby making for a big rivalry between the teams. The fans from both teams were super crazy and we were glad to not be sitting in those sections but on the calmer “occidente” (west) side instead. Both fan sections had bands which they yelled songs to the sound of the drums, flags which they waved high, and they jumped up and down practically the entire game. The Lima fans let out orange gas at the beginning of the game while they rushed up and down the stands. Since the fans were so crazy, they had SWAT officers lining the steps in-between them in case any riots were to break out. The police stood at the top of the bleachers in each section as well looking down on the crowd and ready to pounce on any fights that may occur.

There were also police officers with shields lining the field to stop any crazy fans from jumping inside onto the turf which probably would have been nearly impossible since the field was surrounded by a fence with barbed wire on top. The shields were to protect the players and officers from things being thrown on the field like water bottles and other trash. They made us leave our water bottles outside of the stadium for this reason because people will sometimes fill them up with urine and throw them at the opposing team members.

The 4 referees dressed in blue uniforms and came out of the blown up “Movistar” phone promotion tunnels first. Next to the left of us Lima entered the field and to the right came out our team, Cusco dressed in red uniforms and white shorts. Our captain, number 10, did the kick off in the middle of the field to start the game. About half way through the first half Lima scored and a fan nearby us showed his excitement very openly in a crowd full of Cusco fans. A man next to us was not happy with this and threw a purple slushee at his white Lima jersey and called him a bad name in Spanish. The Lima fan surprisingly did not retaliate and simply kissed his jersey and let it go.

The game continued with the refs blatantly disregarding Lima hand balls and personal fouls making the Cusco players and fans extremely upset and even causing the injury of one of our best players. It looked like we were going to lose the game until in the last minute we scored and it ended with a tie of 1-1 for which they did not go into overtime to settle.

We left the stadium and the streets were packed with people now trying to get taxis home like us, which took us forever by the way because they were all already full. All of a sudden two dozen or more kids came running down the street at us and cops and army officers followed. I got freaked out and didn’t know what was going on and hid behind Liam until they had passed. I still don’t know what that was about, so if anyone has any idea please let me know. I don’t know whether those kids were getting in trouble, or if it was some sort of tradition but I am curious to know why they did that.

Adios for now! I will be home on Sunday afternoon.


Housemates, Horses and Salsa

My last weekend in Cusco was very busy! We got new housemates and I was able to do the rest of the things I had wanted to do before I leave. Saturday was horseback riding and salsa lessons at Maximo Nivel.

On Saturday we got a new housemate named Liam from Ottawa. Sunday morning we got two girls from Washington named Amy and Molly and a young married couple from Minnesota named Amanda and Brian. Liam has long curly hair and tattoos and we really like him. He is a lot of fun and a cool person to talk to. The couple is very nice, although they are leaving in just a couple days to go do their volunteer work in the Manu jungle for 3 weeks so they won’t be staying here. The two other girls are a bit quiet, but seem to be friendly but they too are going to be leaving in a couple days to do their volunteer work up near Urubamba so it looks like we will be getting new housemates again before I even leave on Saturday.

Horseback riding was quite an adventure due to the fact that my horse didn’t like me and he had a bad case of gas and diarrhea. Brittany, Bryant and I along with a couple from Belgium were taken up to the ranch near the ruins above Cusco at 11 am on Saturday morning. They picked out our horses for us. Originally they tried to put Bryant on my crazy horse named Che (how ironic?) and I would have been with his gentle black horse named Cablo, but my horse wouldn’t let him get on the saddle and began bucking up and down when he tried. Instead of taking that as a sign that Che didn’t want to go on the hike and was going to be trouble the whole time, they decided to give him to me and said that he must have not liked Bryant because he was a boy but surely he would be fine with me… HA!

We started uphill along the trail and everyone else’s horses were doing fine. Brittany’s horse, Apacha, was 14 years old and still managed to keep up with everyone. My white horse with black speckles was very big and strong yet he stopped for bathroom breaks every five minutes and was huffing and puffing the whole way up. I would like to think that it wasn’t because I was too big for him, but the way he was acting it was like he was carrying a 500 pound man up that mountain. We had two guides that followed behind on foot and took pictures with our cameras. One was only 14 years old and had a crush on Brittany and the other was 23 and unfortunately had a crush on me. He took about 40 pictures of me on the 2 hour ride and the man from Belgium was egging him on to ask me out on a date, luckily he didn't.

Once we got up to the road and it was time to cross with the group, my dumb horse took another long break to drink water and I ended up having to cross the road with him alone. Then, when we got to the open area he took off running and I had no idea what to do! I tried to pull back on his reins like I’ve seen in the movies, but he would not stop and I was scared to death that I was going to fall off and die. I started to slide down his left side while still holding on to the saddle and eventually I just hopped off so that I wouldn’t fall off and get hurt. He kept running and I was fine with that and wished him a happy trip along the trail without me. Brittany and Bryant were laughing uncontrollably and I couldn’t help but join in at the stupidity of my un-trained horse with bowl problems who clearly just wanted to get away from me and the rest of the group.

The guide ran after the horse and brought him back to me and asked me over and over again if I was ok. I told him it was ok but that my horse was “loco” and I didn’t like him. Brittany, who rode horses when she was younger, told me that the horse could sense that I was scared of him and I needed to show him who was boss. I felt like he was boss by the way he almost threw me off and how he could start running at any moment and I automatically scream in fear. The guide put a rope bit in his mouth this time so that when I pulled back on his reins he would be sure to stop. Che did not like this and when I held the reins he shook his head hard so that I would let go and the ropes would fall to the ground making the bit fall out. He was a bad horse and I couldn’t wait to have a break from him!

We got to The Temple of the Moon which was a ruin along the trail. We got off our horses and they were able to take a break to eat grass and drink from the stream while we spent 40 minutes exploring the site. There were some vendors there who had a Spanish-speaking parrot named Pepito that Brittany became infatuated with. He would say “hola” and “mama” to us and crawl up and down our arm to our shoulder. He was eating an orange when we came upon him but once he met us he thought our sunglasses looked much tastier.

We got back on our horses after I tried to bribe everyone into switching with me. All the others were trying to get their horses to gallop but I wanted mine to just walk slowly and enjoy the scenic route. The little boy guide would sneak up behind the others and slap the horses behinds with a rope to get them to take off but I told him I would be very angry if he did that to Che. We continued on the trail in the open pasture where sheep were grazing and other guides had their dogs with them. The mountains were all around us and I was enjoying Che’s slow pace now despite his smelly droppings behind us.

We made it back to the ranch and I was happy to leave my horse and go off to pet the other horses at the ranch while we waited for our taxi back to town. Even though it wasn’t what I had expected, it was still another adventure and definitely a funny story for me to blog about.

After we got back to the plaza, we grabbed some lunch at a burger place called Bembos where the World Cup game between Spain and Paraguay was on. The place was packed with people cheering on Paraguay since they represent South America.

We walked to Maximo Nivel for salsa lessons for beginners that started at 3 pm. We learned 5 basic step sequences to counts and then paired up with a partner to practice them to music. At the end we all got into a big circle and traded partners after each sequence so that we could all dance with each other. At that point I was getting mixed up with my feet and I met a boy who helped me with the confusing steps. It seems much easier when you are actually out in the clubs doing it than in a classroom to numbers and so structured. Salsa is a very loose and free dance that to me just flows when you hear the music and have a dancing partner in a club. It was nice to learn the real steps though and I hope to use them at least once before I leave to impress Mario since he was the one who taught me here in the first place. At 4:30 the advanced class began and we had the option to stay and learn all the turning and dipping moves, but Brittany, Bryant and I all agreed that we were nowhere near being advanced salsa dancers and decided to head home after a long day out.

We had a relaxing movie night at home with all the movies we bought at El Molino, the black market. They are only a dollar a piece, so Brittany and I have each bought about 15 or so by now! I have a 7 hour layover in Lima on Saturday so they will come in hand while I have nothing to do in the airport.

We also bought some other things at the black market: going away gifts for our maid and house mom. We got our maid new tennis shoes since hers were so old they had holes in them and she does not have a lot of money and can’t afford new ones. Her feet are so tiny; she wears a women’s size 4! We got her some adorable white Nike’s with a green swoosh and she has been wearing them every day since. She was so excited when we gave them to her and I had never seen her smile so big. We got our house mom some beautiful flowers and her favorite bottle of Argentinean wine.

Read on in my next blog about Sunday’s activities: Catholic Church mass and a Cusco vs. Lima soccer game.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Casa Acogida

Happy Fourth of July from Cusco, Peru! It is weird being in a foreign country on such a big American holiday and I will miss the fireworks and cook out that usually fills this summer day with family back home.

I went to my new placement on Friday morning at Casa Acogida, the shelter for girls who have suffered sexual abuse and been taken from their homes. They ranged from age 13 to 18 and were the sweetest girls I have met yet during my time here in Peru. This was the placement that I had wanted originally and for my entire time here in Cusco because of what I am interested in with my career path in social work and the work I have done with my internship at Sexual Trauma Services in Columbia, SC. Unfortunately, due to lack of available volunteer space I am now only left with a week with the girls. There are only about 25-30 or so girls that live there and Maximo Nivel has the time slot of 9-11 am to have 3 volunteers do their visits. During the rest of the day other volunteer programs send people out so that it is organized and not too overcrowded for the girls.

I arrived at the shelter with a staff member from Maximo around 9:30 am. The shelter is just about a 10 minute walk from the main plaza but since it is down to the last week and I am running low on money, I think that I will have to resort to taking the combi in order to save money because they only cost .60 cents while a taxi is 3 soles. When I arrived I was introduced to about 8 of the girls who had just finished playing volleyball and they were now resting and making beaded jewelry under some rafters that let a little bit of sun shine through. I met the other two volunteers there, one who is from Oregon and the other from Holland.

The shelter was a lot larger than I had expected. I was let in the locked front door into an open courtyard where laundry was hanging to dry. To the left was another huge open area with a small statue and all of the girls rooms were circled around that area. The psychologist office was at the end of the courtyard and outside it had uplifting jokes, the daily schedule and recommendations for how the girls can keep their spirits up. I was sitting with the girls in the volleyball court and there was a kitchen connected where some of the girls had started to cook lunch. They were making rice with onions and French fries and some orange fruit punch to drink.

I had my camera out and they all wanted me to take their pictures while they prepared lunch. Afterward they were so excited by their pictures that they made me promise to print them off copies to being back for Monday. I can’t wait to go back on Monday to continue to get to know the girls and learn how sexual assault is handled in the Latin American society with a very “machismo” attitude.

I will get to teach the girls English, make jewelry with them, do exercises and sport activities, etc. I am hoping to get a chance to talk with the directors at the shelter to find out how the girls come to live at the shelter, whether they are brought in by the police, their other family members or come voluntarily. It would also interest me to know about their treatment and how long they are able to stay. I am wondering if they have similar procedures as in the United States in dealing with these cases. I will write back next week after I visit the shelter and hopefully get some of these questions answered.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Copacabana and La Paz, Bolivia

We drove along the country side of Peru for almost 3 hours until we reached the border of Bolivia. I was a little nervous exiting the bus because I knew Bolivia didn’t necessarily like Americans and that was part of the reason why I would have to pay $135 for a Visa to enter their country. First we had to leave Peru with our departure card and then walk across the border to enter Kasani, Bolivia and pay the money for our Visa. Sounds simple? It wasn’t at all. It was extremely stressful and hectic because I didn’t know that this was the order and no one was helping us whatsoever. Once we walked into Bolivia we had to fill out a bunch of paperwork and the immigration officers were not very friendly due to the fact that we were American (well 3 of us). To make matters worse, when Laura came to Peru back in April they only wrote 30 days in her passport meaning that we had outstayed her time in Peru and the Bolivian officials would not let her in the country. There was another American man there that spoke Spanish that was trying to help her and talk to the officers to explains that it wasn’t her fault, but they were not having it and were trying to bride her into making her pay them money to let her in. Finally, she just left the office and got back on the bus, ergo entering the country illegally because she never got a stamp in her passport. In another country this might have been a problem, but there was literally no one standing at the border checking passports and had she not gone in that office, no one would have even known that there was a problem. Also, since she is Australian there were ways around it and I will tell you now to save the suspense and worry, she was able to sneak back into Peru with no problems, thank God!

There was an hour time change at the border so we were now an hour ahead and arrived in Copacabana, sort of like the much prettier sister of Puno, around 12:30 pm. We booked a tour out to Isla de Sol at 1:30 and our bus to La Paz the next day for only 17 Bolivianos. The exchange rate for Bolivianos (the Bolivian currency) is 7 to 1 and things are so cheap in Bolivia. In the meantime went and got a hostel right by the lake on the main strip of town that was nice although it had no toilet paper in the bathroom and the bedspreads looked like they came from the Victorian ages, but I guess that is what you get for B50 ($7). The Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca was way nicer and Copacabana looked like what I imagine a city on the Mediterranean would look like. It had nice hotels, a beach in a cove and the main street had cobblestone and touristy restaurants where you can sit outside with a view of the lake.

Our boat ride out to Isla de Sol was an hour and a half. On the way we saw snow capped mountains and the other Bolivian islands that had their own ruins as well. When we arrived on the island there was a band playing at the bottom of the path up to the ruins. We decided not to do the hike up to them and stay at the bottom to explore and lay on the beach. There were donkeys and llamas everywhere on this island that the people would make them walk up and down the broken cobblestone to get down to the lake for some water. There were two warrior statues that we had some fun taking pictures with and in the port there were boats from the size of canoes all the way to yachts. We got back on the boat and sat on the top deck for the ride back even though it was starting to get cold.

We got back to Copacabana around 5:45 and ran back into the hostel to throw on some more jackets and then headed to dinner. We got warm bread, a salad bar, soup, an entrée, desert and a drink for B23. That is like $3, can you believe that!?!

After dinner Bryant, Nika and I walked up to check out their plaza. They had a large church and a center area with trees and a statue like most of the plazas I have seen in Peru and Bolivia. We went into a meat market where I sat an adorable little baby lamb that was practically skin and bones. I talked to the little girls with it and they said the mother died so they had to feed it milk with a bottle. We headed back to the hostel and I took a shower and got into my bumpy and way to soft bed because our bus for La Paz left the next morning at 8 am.

Our bus to La Paz traveled along a skinny mountain highway and about an hour into it we had to get off and cross the lake in a boat while our bus crossed on its own boat. We arrived in La Paz, the highest capital city in the world, around noon and went right to the bus station to get tickets back. Brittany felt uncomfortable in Bolivia and Laura didn’t like the fact that she was there illegally so the two of them and Bryant decided to get a bus back immediately at 2 pm while I stayed with Nika in the city and bought a ticket to go back the following morning at 8:30 am. If I had gone back with them I wouldn’t have even seen La Paz and it would have been a wasted trip there in the first place.

Nika and I got a hostel called The Point, which they have in many cities across Peru and Bolivia. It was very nice, safe and touristy and we met a lot of other westerners there from Germany, England, Scotland, Canada and even some fellow Americans. We stayed in a room with 3 other girls called “psychedelics” that had bunk beds. The hostel featured its own travel agency, a Jacuzzi, an open courtyard with 3 hammocks, its own bar and restaurant, a movie room and free internet.

Nika and I headed out to explore the city with a map that the hostel gave us. We started by going to the main government square which was really cool. There were police men with guns and shields and guards everywhere. Four Bolivian teenage boys wanted to take a picture with me I think because I was the only blonde for miles. They were cute and polite so I let them and they giggled and ran off happy to have a picture with a gringa.

It was the weirdest thing but all throughout the city the cross guards wore zebra costumes! I asked one of them why and he said it was because there weren’t enough police to do it because they need to be doing other things like controlling crime and whatnot so the cross guards get paid to wear the silly costumes because they will stick out to traffic. It was really bizarre but quite funny.

La Paz was just another big city but it was unique in its own way. It was busy with people of all types, from the indigenous dressed to the business dressed. In Bolivia, the indigenous women still wear similar clothing, yet their skirts are much more shiny and outlandish. They aren’t usually just one plain, dull color but they will be multi colored and have some metallic in them as well or a print. There were high rises everywhere and many shops and markets. I must say however, it was one of the rankest smelling cities I have ever been in. I read in Nika’s Bolivia lonely planet that this is because La Paz is lacking is public restrooms so many people just go to the bathroom in the street. I didn’t see this happen personally, but I could tell by the smell that this must be accurate.

We went to the black market which took up about 10 city blocks. There was nothing there that interested Nika or I so we just walked through for the experience. Next we stumbled upon the city’s largest and oldest church called San Francisco. We were able to go inside for a look and it was quite extravagant with very high ceilings and display cases down each wall.

In La Paz they have a special market where witches come to sell their potions and good luck charms. Nika and I loved this part of the city and were amazed at all the weird things they had. Each stand had llama fetuses that witches sell for people to put under the construction of a new house for good luck. They had them hanging everywhere or in baskets and I couldn’t help but take a million pictures. We both had a cough; mine still has been persisting, so we asked one of the witches if she had any potions that could help us. We bought “Sangre de Grado” which means blood of and grado is a type of plant. It was B10 and we put it in our coca tea later that night and it actually helped!

We took a taxi up to a viewpoint of the city called Killi Killi. We could see all of La Paz, which I didn’t realize until then was in a valley. We took some great pictures with the entire city in the background and sat on one of the benches for about ten minutes taking in the view. We could see all the houses on the hillside, the high rises below in the central city and there was even a large soccer stadium.

We went to the Folklore museum next which was awesome! The first part had black and white photos of villagers from the 1930s in the rainforest. It showed their huts and tools and how they lived. Another room had fabrics from all over the country and a video was playing of how they make the different patterns and weave the colors. There was an actual machine in the room with the threads and the tools the women use to make the different things they sell. My favorite part of the museum was a room full of the traditional masks they use for the cultural dances. They were all so different and wacky but really cool in their own way. The next room had head dresses that the people wear during festivals and ceremonies. I couldn’t believe the size of some of them and how people would even be able to balance them on their head! The next room had a lot of ceramic pots and artifacts along with another video of how they make them out of the clay. The last room had the evolution of money and how they started with the Reales when Spain brought its currency over and eventually made their own form which is now the Boliviano. It has changed in the bill and coin form over the years though and it was cool to see where it started to where it is today as the money I had in my wallet.

It had gotten dark and I was now starting to feel a little uncomfortable in the big city as a blonde tourist girl. Nika and I looked all over for a money exchange so that she could cash in her traveler’s checks because the banks wouldn’t do it. We finally found one on the main road which was bustling with people, traffic and armed police men and I made sure to stay close to Nika and hold on tightly to my purse. We went into an internet café so I could use the phone to call my parents to let them know I was safe in La Paz and would be returning to Cusco in the morning.

We got a taxi back to our hostel where we had some delicious tacos for dinner. Nika was very tired and had a tour to go biking on “the road of death” in the morning so she went right to bed. Since I would be traveling on a bus the entire next day, I decided to stay up and take a shower and then I watched The Jungle Book with some other backpackers in the movie room. I hadn’t seen that movie since I was about 5 years old and to watch it again at 21 in Bolivia with people from all over the world was quite ironic! Afterward, I sat in the hammock and listened to my Ipod while I looked at the La Paz stars.

I woke up the next morning around 7:30 for breakfast and then got a taxi to the bus station for my 8:30 bus back to Cusco. However, when I arrived at the bus station at 8:20 my bus had already left! They had to put me on another bus that would stop in Copacabana and Puno before making it back to Cusco. I was happy to see that when I boarded the bus there were other tourist people and I later learned that one of them actually went of the University of Michigan. There was a very nice couple from California was well that took care of me along the way to make sure I got on all the right buses. A Bolivian police officer asked to see my passport at the point where we cross the lake and as soon as I pulled it out and he saw I was American he flipped through my pages frantically to make sure that I had a Visa in it. My heart was pounding so fast at that point even though I had all the right documentation, I was still scared because I had heard horror stories of the Bolivian police being corrupt and making Americans pay them off. Luckily, he returned my passport to me with no problems and I was on my way.

Crossing the border was a lot less relaxed on the way back because I knew what I was doing and because I was going back to Peru where I felt more comfortable and which is actually what I call home now. My passport is full of stamps now from leaving Peru, entering Bolivia, getting my Visa, leaving Bolivia and entering Peru again.

When we stopped in Puno there where people waiting to get on my bus with netted bags full of ducks, chickens and guinea pigs. I almost started crying because they were all crammed into these tiny bags and could barely move and it was so sad to think they were on their way to death. It made me think about becoming a vegetarian (Kristi you probably never thought you would hear me say that!)

I was supposed to get home at 7 pm, but ended up getting back at midnight because those 2 stops turned into about 6 along the way at tiny little towns where people got on and off. I was very cold on the way home and while I was sleeping in a ball the Peruvian lady next to me must have noticed and covered me up with two of her jackets.

I had a nice little adventure this weekend, but I am definitely glad to be home and guess what? I have a tan as well! Of course it is only on my face because the rest of my body was always covered in long pants and sweatshirts, but on our boat rides to and from the islands when we sat on the upper deck, we were able to get a tan on our faces from the sun.

We thought when we got back we would have new roommates since the Chicago couple and the New Zealand woman left last weekend, but there were no new roomies here when we got back, so maybe this weekend. This is my last weekend here unfortunately, but I already have it planned out for what I am going to do.

Saturday: salsa lessons in the morning at Maximo Nivel and then horseback riding in the afternoon with Bryant and Brittany.

Sunday: church in the morning since I never did get a chance to go and going to watch the Cusco soccer team play in the afternoon.

I will start my new placement at the shelter for abused girls’ tomorrow morning hopefully and get to do that for the next week or so so I at least have some experience with them before I leave.

I have to make the most of my last week and a half here in Cusco but I am starting to get sad as I think about leaving this place that has been my home for almost two months. It will be exciting to get back to Michigan for the wedding and to see my family and friends, but I have grown to love this city and the people here.

Adios for now and wish me luck in my last remaining days in Peru.


Puno and Lake Titicaca

I traveled to Puno and 3 islands on Lake Titicaca in Peru and Copacabana, Isla de Sol and La Paz in Bolivia this past weekend and just got home last night at midnight. It was an amazing trip that was clearly documented by the 300 plus pictures I took! It was a long weekend filled with many new opportunities for cultural learning. This entry will be long so get ready!

There were 8 of us that took a bus to Puno at 10:15 pm Thursday night that only cost S30: Brittany, Bryant, Laura, Andrew from Pittsburg, Armando from Texas, Allison from California, Kim from Sydney, Australia and I. The ride there was extremely shaky and I about fell over trying to get up to us the bathroom in the middle of the night. We arrived at 4 am and went to a hostel called Pirwa that was recommended to us by a friend.
We slept in the freezing hostel for a couple hours but had to be up for our 2 day tour that was picking us up at 8 am. We only had to pay S60 for a boat trip to 3 islands, one of which we would be spending the night with a family and all meals were included. They took us to the Puno port where we bought some sugar, pasta and apples for the family we would be staying with because they live 3 hours from Puno by boat and therefore don’t have many resources on their island.

The first set of islands we visited were the floating Uros, which are man made by a reed called Tortora. There are 60 of them that each has an elected president for 6 months who is in charge of making decisions for the island and sitting in the watch tower for many hours of the day. They speak a language called Aymara and live in small huts made of the reed that they allowed us to have a look inside. We sat around a circle and the president explained to us how the islands are made. First they have to set the foundation of very large mud blocks in the lake. They stick pegs in the mud at different points of the island and then wrap rope around to hold them in place. They put many layers of the Tortora which needs to be replaced every 4 months in dry season and every 2 weeks in wet season or their island will float off. Their homes are placed on shorter and more Tortora so it is raised above to avoid flooding. It was very interesting to listen to how they make these islands on their own and how they can manage to live in them with no resources. We even got to taste the Tortora since it is similar to a banana and can be peeled. It didn’t taste like anything but maybe a less flavorful and softer form of celery. It was very wet and when peeled a white color unlike the tan color it is to make the islands and huts. When we were leaving the women sang “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” to us in Aymara, Quechua, Spanish, English and Italian! They gave us all hugs and waved goodbye.

The men of that island took us on one of their elaborate reed boats across to another Uros island. The sun was very hot on Lake Titicaca, yet the breeze was cold. This island was even bigger than the last and had its own restaurant! There were women selling the usual tourist knick-knacks and I bought a pretty pink bracelet from one of them. On this island we were able to get our passports stamped. Of course we weren’t in another country, but it was just a fun little memento to remember our time on the floating islands.

We got back on our boat for a 3 hour ride to the natural island we would spend the night on called Amantaní, population of 8,000. Some of us sat on the top deck and enjoyed the heat of the sun on our face for the trip across the lake. The scenery was wonderful. The sun was making the whole lake sparkle and we were cruising through mountains on either side. Brittany and I talked with Andrew for almost the whole ride about his 4 ½ years he spent in the Army. He told us stories of his time in Germany and then in Iraq. I had never sat down and talked with someone who had been oversees in this war and it was amazing to hear how much bravery and pride he has.

We arrived on the island where we were greeted by our new host mom named Matilda. Andrew, Bryant, Brittany and I stayed in one house and the other 4 were in another. She wore a green skirt, a white tunic with flower embroidery and a black shall over her head. This was the traditional dress for all the women on the islands of Lake Titicaca. She took us to her home which was up on top of a hill and a difficult walk with all of our luggage and the broken cobblestone path. On the way up we saw herds of sheep and donkeys eating grass by the shore.

We walked into her home which had no roof except for the bedrooms and kitchen. There was no running water or electricity and they had to run everything on solar power and gas. She had a nice husband and two young sons that were happy to have us staying there because it meant they would get some of the money we paid for the tour. Come to find our however that they family only got S10 per person for giving us a room and 3 meals! Apparently the tour companies nowadays have been exploiting the families on the islands and barely giving them anything for their hospitality to tourists. It is quite sad that their culture and traditions are being walked all over for only a couple soles. Had I known this ahead of time I would have left them some extra money or bought one of the hats that Matilda was knitting while we were there.

The family fed us lunch and then we had an hour to spare before we were to meet the rest of the group at the plaza for a hike up to some ruins. The four of us decided to go down to the shore to do some exploring and take some pictures. We made our way back down the rickety path and were met by some children playing jump rope. We joined in and played with them for a bit. One of the girls brought her baby lamb down and I got to hold it and take some pictures, so of course I was more than delighted! We walked along the shore for a bit and felt the water with our hands, which was pretty cold and not intended for swimming. However, we saw kids playing in the water and doing their laundry so they must be used to the cold temperature.

We met up with our group in the plaza at 4 pm and started on a hike to some ruins on the island called Pachamama. On the way up we passed locals coming down with their sheep and donkeys and there were cows grazing on the terraces. The views just kept getting better and better as we got higher and higher along the path because we could see all of the lake and as we got the top we could see the Bolivian side as well. A full moon had risen on one side of the sky and the sun was starting the set on the other; it was magnificent. There were vendors at the top of the ruins trying to sell us things but we were too engulfed in the views and snapping pictures left and right to notice. The sky was pink and purple and we were there to see the sun fall below the mountains in the distance. At that point is when I realized I was freezing! I had on only a long sleeve shirt and so we all made our way back down quickly.

Our house mom met us in the Plaza and at this point it was dark so she lead us with a flash light back to our house where we went straight to our rooms to bundle up in more layers of clothing. Brittany and I lay down to wait for dinner and ended up falling asleep but were awaken by the youngest son banging on our door and saying “cena chicas, cena, cena!!” We had some authentic coca tea, warm soup and a rice and bean mixture.

After dinner it was time for our mom to dress us in the traditional clothing to go to a party for some traditional dancing. She dressed Brittany and I in the skirt and belt very tightly and tunic and head shall and then the boys wore a poncho and a funny little hat. We walked back up to the plaza where the rest of the group came as well dressed in the Amantaní outfits and we took many pictures of how funny we all looked in the getups. There was a band that played and we danced around with our families for about an hour before heading back to our houses.

Before changing back into our own clothes we made Bryant wear the skirt and headdress and Brittany and I put on the ponchos and hats for some pictures. Brittany and I thought we looked funny in the traditional dress, but I must admit that Bryant looked even better in the skirt than we did. We changed out of our outfits and the 4 of us decided to go back down to the beach to look at the stars. Like the rainforest, the stars on Lake Titicaca were amazing. They were so bright and they filled the entire sky. We only stayed out for about 20 minutes because it was cold, we had to be up early and the donkeys and sheep were so loud and annoying we had to get away from them!

Brittany and I shared a room that had two beds, but we decided ahead of time that since the island was so cold we would share a bed in order to share body heat as well. We brought my sleeping bag and an extra blanket and snuggled into bed to keep warm with each other.

The little boy woke us up again in the morning banging on our door at 7:30 saying “desayuno chicas, desayuno!!” The husband sat and had breakfast with us and asked when we would be heading back to the United States. We told him when but said we didn’t want to since Peru was so beautiful and we were having such a fun time. He told us that we were lucky to be going back to the United States and should be thankful that we live there. He gave us his address: Correo Central Puno Isla Amantaní Comunidad Pueblo Ccolono Oswaldo CNR: Mamam Perú. Then he asked for us to write down our names and emails for him.

Our house mom walked us down to the dock and we said our goodbyes. Our boat left at 8 am and we continued to our next island, Taquile. It was an hour ride to this island which was the most beautiful of them all. When we got off the boat we had to hike up hill a half hour to the plaza. I have definitely been using my inhaler a lot more this summer with all this hiking up hil! We had about a half hour to take pictures and hang out until lunch. There were little girls surrounding us trying to get us to buy their bracelets and I of course gave in and bought one from a cute little girl named Amalina. On this island some of the kids make their money by getting you to take pictures of them or with them and then getting a tip. Many of the children in the plaza were asking us to take pictures.

We headed up a path from the plaza to a restaurant for lunch with a great view of the countryside and the lake. The main fishing industry of the lake is trout and so that is what I decided to order for lunch. It was amazing! My dad would have loved it. They seasoned it perfectly and it was very tender and fell right off the skin of the fish. At lunch, our guide explained the hats that the men of the island wear. If a man on this island has on an all red hat, it means it is married. If a man has on a red and white hat it means he is single. If that hat is to the right side he is looking for a girlfriend, but if it is to the left side he is only looking for fun and adventure and nothing serious.

After lunch we took another trail down the opposite side of the island where our boat met us to take us back to Puno. When we arrived back in Puno we went to the bus station to get our tickets to Copacabana, Bolivia the next morning. Only Bryant, Brittany, Laura and a Slovenian girl named Nika we met and I would be going on and the rest were headed back to Cusco that night. The 5 of us staying got a hostel and then all of us went out for dinner on the main street in Puno called Calle Lima. We got a 4 course meal for only S15! It was a fun ending for the 8 of us to a great weekend but there was still a lot more in store ahead for the 5 of us in Bolivia!

The hostel we stayed in was very nice! The owner reminded me of Patti and she took care of each of her guests like they were her own children. When it was time for bed she brought us all a hot water packs to put in our sheets to warm up our beds. There was free internet, hot water, comfortable beds, cable TV and in the morning a full breakfast with bacon, eggs, warm bread, juice, tea and fruit. She even ran out and got us a taxi in the morning and negotiated the price to the bus station for us. She gave us all hugs and advice for when we get to Bolivia.

We got to the bus station and got on our bus to go to Copacabana, Bolivia at 7:30 am. Crossing the border was a whole different story! Read on in the next entry about my experience at the border and my time in Bolivia.


Rafting and Inti Raymi

I apologize for not writing in such a long time but the past week has been very busy here in Cusco and then with travels! In this entry I will catch you all up on my rafting experience, riding the Combi for the first time (the tiny bus that the locals use,) the two new roommates we got, going to the Coca museum with Claire and the huge festivals last Wednesday and Thursday in Cusco.

The strike finally ended and we were able to go rafting last Saturday. Brendon, Chantal, Brittany and I left around 8:45 in the morning with about 45 other tourists around our age to go out to the Urubamba River. It took about an hour to get there but the drive was beautiful. We drove through the mountains and the villages we passed by were quaint with small shack homes and abundant livestock in the fields surrounding.

We arrived at the base camp where we changed into our bathing suits, got our gear which was a wet suit, rain jacket, life vest and helmet, and left our stuff in lockers. We got back on the bus to continue to wear we would put our rafts in to start from. When we arrived they gave us all a paddle and explained the commands our guide would give us: forward, back, stop, inside (where we all sit in the raft), left and right. Our guide was from Brazil and the only English he knew were those commands so it was good that I spoke Spanish along with the one other guy from Montreal that came along on our raft.

We started down the river, which was in a beautiful valley, and the sun was shining. It was a perfect day to be rafting because even though the water was extremely cold, we had the hot sun to keep us warm. Our guide was a little nuts and whenever we went over rapids he would jump up and down like a spider monkey.

The rapids were only a level 3 since it is dry season here and the water is so low, but they were still fun and gave us some scare a couple times. The paddling wasn't hard at all since the water was so low so I was happy about that because I am not very good when it comes to steering and paddling. Also, since it is dry season there were a couple times where we had to get out of the boat and walk along the shore because the water was not high enough to cover certain rocks and we couldn’t go past them. I did not like this part at all because we were barefoot and the rocks were very slippery and not easy to walk on at all.

At one point on the 3 hour journey down the river, we got to a point where we could get out and swim. Our guide took this opportunity to flip our raft so we didn’t have the option and we all ended up going for a swim. The water was freezing but it was fun to be in the water. There was a big rock that we could go up to jump off of as well so Chantal, Brendon and I went up and did cannonballs into the river from it. The rapids started to carry me away afterward and I couldn’t swim hard enough back to the raft against them so my guide paddled over and stuck out the paddle for me to grab on to luckily.

We got back to base camp where they had a sauna to warm us up. Afterward we had some tasty lunch and then headed back to Cusco where I took a quick nap and then got ready for the International Party I talked about earlier.

I rode the Combi for the first time with Julia to the party because we waited forever and could not get a taxi. It only costs 60 cents so it is much cheaper than a taxi, but after riding it I would prefer to stick to taxis for the rest of my time here. They are these little white vans that are meant to hold probably 15 people maximum, but they cram about 40-50 in them. We sat in the back for a ride that in taxi takes 10 minutes yet in this with all the back alley stops took 25 and I felt extremely claustrophobic. It smelled, it was dirty and I swear some old man was sitting on my lap.

On Sunday we got two new housemates, one of which is my new roommate. They came together, both from Ole Miss (University of Mississippi). My roommate’s name is Brittany and then Bryant is in the room upstairs. Bryant will be in his first year of med school in the fall and Brittany is applying right now. They are both doing medical placement here at clinics in Cusco for 6 weeks. They have really strong southern accents which are adorable and Brittany calls everyone ma'am and sir. Her mom kept a lock of her hair back home in MS with her in case anything were to happen to Brittany so she would have her DNA! This was very funny but extremely smart too. I really like them both and we have all bonded very quickly and I will be sad to leave them in a week and a half.

Claire got back in town on Monday from her trip to Bolivia and so we met up and went to the Coca Museum together. It was only S5 for students. It featured 3 rooms with different walls explaining each part of the plant from its growth to its controversy. They worshiped a Coca Queen in the past that brought good fortune to the coca fields for them to grow. Coca can grow as a flower or a leaf and is threatened by moths that like to eat it. It grows mainly in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. People have been chewing the leaf for centuries to help with altitude sickness and to help stimulate the body to work longer hours; it is like the super caffeine. Doctors like Sigmund Freud did studies and actually support the use of coca for many health benefits not only physically but mentally. As far as making it into cocaine, there was a sign with the step by step process of how they change the leaves into the deadly drug. However, there are officials in South America that support the making of cocaine in their countries because they say it helps the economy grow and it is an essential part of the history of their nation. There was a room in the museum about addiction that had posters of Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse and then a mannequin of a dead man lying on a bed with a syringe next to him. Unfortunately, I cannot bring anything with coca in it back to the states, but in the coca store of the museum they had anything you could imagine made with coca from tea to alcohol to candy and gum.

Wednesday was the Day of Cusco and yet again the plaza was closed off for more parades and dancing. I did not have work as well as the rest of the city because this was a day to celebrate being Cusqueno and go out with friends and family and enjoy the day.

Thursday was Inti Raymi which is a huge festival here that celebrates the Sun God. They had a parade that started at 8 in the morning on Avenida Sol and continued all the way up to the ruins at Saqsayhuman where the ceremony was held. We did not go because tickets were $100 but from what I hear it was all in Quechua and was very boring anyways. There was a priest that talked for awhile and then they did a fake llama sacrifice to the Sun God. The Plaza was shut down for this day as well and no one had work because of the holiday. Brittany, Bryant and I went out later in the day to take some pictures of the decorations in the Plaza. We had lunch out and Brittany and I had great pepper alpaca tenderloin. We happened to see part of the parade of men dressed in what looked like Indian tribal costumes run by around 4 pm when we were on our way back home to pack for our long weekend trip.

I had to say goodbye to Brendon and Chantal because they would be leaving before I get back from my trip and it was very sad and I actually started crying! They told me I was welcome to come visit them in Saskatchewan whenever I want. Check out my next entries to read all about my trip to Puno and Lake Titicaca. Adios!