Writer’s Block

Should be added to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Months of partially-formed ideas and to-be-continued stories fill the mess that has become my Draft folder.

Don’t mind me, I’ve diagnosed myself with  the psychology student’s version of medical student syndrome. So take my ADHD, OCD, polysubstance abusing, insecurely attached self with some coarse grains of salt. Self-deprecation aside, as I make my way into semester two (and embed myself more deeply in debt), it’s hard to reconcile how problem-oriented and pahologizing many current ways of viewing mental “health” are.

X number of symptoms over blank amount of time qualifies as a disorder. And without a formal diagnosis to be labeled with, good luck getting insurance to cover the therapy that you undoubtedly need. (Who doesn’t?)

I prefer to think of behaviors and thought patterns as existing on a continuum. Yea, it might look ugly and chaotic, but probably is serving a very useful purpose. A lesser of two evils. The majority of people, most of the time are operating from good intentions and are doing the best they can at any given moment. Without that space to try and understand some of the why (societal, cultural factors, blaming your parents etc.) and the ability to judge ourselves a little less harshly, there is little room to recognize anything besides your problems.

Go back to the society and community piece – how are we supposed to be understanding and open in relation to others if we can’t believe that for ourselves?

After month’s of crumbling under the pressure to share something profound I have overcome my fears and now get to feel the rush of the Publish click rather than the defeat of the Save Draft.

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The Real World, Portland, USA

since I’ve been back, for all those I owe a good catch-up to

August. I meant to finish a final ‘travel’ post soon after returning from Bolivia. But between recovering from my assimilation back to reality, repacking my bags and heading to Kauai for Ty’s wedding, the annual family camping trip and then re-repacking up all of my things into boxes, loading the 16 ft. Penske, traversing California and then bidding it aideu from the Oregon border just in time to make Orientation, it never made it out of the Drafts folder.

Enough time since returning from South America (July 29) has gone by that it shouldn’t be difficult to answer questions such as, Did traveling change you? What was the hardest part? What feels different? etc. My answer is yes. And now I’m immersed in the further transition of adjusting to this “new life” within a new stage of life.

I miss Huaycan. The kids and the classes, our house in Zone D, motos, Quince, Kenkos, homecooked Peruvian meals, the volunteers, my friends in Lima, combis, buying single cigarettes, and being completely engaged in everyday things because they are novel. I even miss Bolivian bus rides and I NEVER thought I would say that. I’ve definitely had waves of homesickness for traveling. I can’t help but think my trip is helping make this move much easier than it might otherwise have been. I’m good at doing things on my own and figuring out how to get around in an unfamiliar city, and have a new found ability to make  friends on craigslist.

School. I’m stoked to be a grad student. It’s been a long time coming. Lewis and Clark is great. The campus is densely green and brick clad. The Counseling Psy program is touch-feely and all about self awareness and social justice. I can geek out reading about human behavior and over analyze to my hearts content. I’m enrolling in a Spanish class at the community college (to keep up my slowest language learning curve EVER) and am looking for part-time work.

So yea, it’s been a good first two weeks. Bridget likes it. We hang out and go for walks. My bike likes it here, there are paths and routes everywhere. Laura and Nicole have both been up to visit and hang out with me for my birthday. I went to the Portland Music Festival and found a great yoga studio. I’ve been baptized by the rain, seen Multnomah Falls and Hood River, indulged in farmer’s market and u-picks, made a token friend at orientation, reconsidered a tattoo and am making the transition back to formal vegetarianism. Oh, and found great, old bedroom furniture at a consignment shop, so my room feels cozy.

To dreams and balance and ADDventures whether home or away.

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Writing from Tupiza, Bolivia, where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed.  It`s red mountains, cacti studded hills and bizarre rock formations remind me of Sedona, Arizona. But, like most of Bolivia, it`s unlike anywhere else I`ve ever been before and hard to draw comparisons.  The intensity of the vast landscapes and diversity of the geopgraphy (lots viewed via the hours and hours (and hours) spent on busses) makes me feel insignificant but also connected to an Earth that used to have oceans where there are now mountain ranges, salt water lakes that have turned into miles upon miles of salt plains and depleted hillsides once rich with silver and gold.

Since my posts have become less frequent and the stories to days ratio have risen since being on the move, here`s a by-city sum up since parting ways with Al.

I saw Ali to her bus heading to the airport and watched until the bus turned out of sight. Then I stood on the sidewalk in Puno (not the most glamorous of cities) with no where I had to be and nothing specific to do and felt a dull sinking feeling and a flutter of panic.  After all of  the build up, the just me part of the journey had begun. Maybe that´s part of what has always appealed to me about travelling alone, having to face those fears and see if I could do it. It´s much harder to escape those uncomfortable feelings. Luckily, after the first few hours the worst of it passed (nothing a few drags of a cigarette and a xanax couldn`t cure) and I think I`ve been getting better at it and really learning to enjoy it since.

The next morning I made my way to the Yunguyo, Peru/Copacabana, Bolivia border crossing. As an US American, we are privileged with extra hassle, we´re one of the only countries that have to purchase a visa to enter the country (thanks, Bush) If it hadn´t been for my bus driver´s help, directing me which line to stand in and in what order and then shuttling me to the front to get my passport stamped, I probably would have been let behind at the border like a couple from Arizona did, who somehow managed to get even more confused than I did.

Copacabana is really beautiful, right on Lake Titicaca with views of Isla del Sol and the Cordillera Real mountain range. It´s a touristy spot but one with a relaxed vibe. I checked into a cheap hostal (20 Bolivianos or about $3 and some change) and went to explore the small town. I was taking in some sun in the town`s church plaza, which looked like it belonged in Spain with it´s Moorish style arches , and watching a few little girls giggle and play together in the courtyard. It seemed like a good time to work on becoming more “artsy” so I started to sketch them in my notebook. Apparently not very subtly, the oldest one caught on to what I was doing, eyed me for a few minutes and then came over to ask what I was doing and then if she could draw. I ended up with some lovely sketches of cats, ducks, trees and clouds all done by my subject.

That night I had a delicious trucha relleno (stuffed trout) for dinner with my dorm mate from Scotland  who had just returned from a 2 day trip to Isla del Sol. He`d found a more creative route by hiking to Yumapata, a point closer to the island and then hiring a row boat to take him to the island rather than just cramming on one of the motor boats that daily left from Copacabana.  I decided to emulate and set off the next day to cover the 17k with my 1,400 Boliviano sole supports in (no ATMs in Copcabana = I had to take out a cash advance. I was nervous to hike with that kind of cash on me, so I stuck the wadded bills in my shoes.) I underestimated the elevation, bright sun, heavy backpack and head cold I was fighting. After walking the windy, hilly road and taking hours longer than had been projected, I rested in Sorita, barely a village 5k short of Yumapata. There a guardian angel of man offered to take me across in his boat. He kept insisting his name was in Lonley Planet (so that I could trust him?) After dumping bucket fulls of water out of the bottom of the boat, we were on our way. It was more expensive than if I´d taken a group boat from Copacabana or row-boat from Yumapata but well worth the extra cost.

Once I arrived at Isla del Sol, the sun was starting to go down and I there was a seemingly vertical path up to where all of the hostals were. I must have been looking really pathetic because once again a local found me and said they rented rooms to travellers. It was kind of a hostal in progress, so I got a private room and bath for what a dorm would have cost somewhere else. The next day I made the 3 hour hike of the length of the beautiful island with its incredible views (very slowly at 4000m and biting wind) to the north port with the intention of coming back for my backpack during an hour stop at the south port before heading back to Copacabana.  I ran up the hill to the house to find the front door padlocked. My hosts were out, (since this wasn`t there main source of income they were out for the day working)  20 mins soon turned into 2 hours and I resigned myself to another night there. Frustrated at first, but after watching the light change over the hills and locals returning from the fields with their donkeys and bags of grain on their backs I realized there  were worst places to be “stuck” overnight.

I left Copacabana on a bus heading to La Paz planning to get off  in Huarina and catch another bus to Sorata. I got off  on the side of the road without a bus terminal in sight. Luckily, also on the road was Scott and Amy, the American couple I recognized after they were left behind by our bus at the border crossing. After waiting for 40 mins and watching packed bus after packed micro pass us by, we hitchhiked a ride in the back of a pick up carrying cement, fiber glass and wood panelling. We didn´t realize it was a 2 hour drive through winding, freezing, thickly clouded mountain roads. We arrived to Sorata just as it was getting dark, shivering and dripping wet but feeling pretty hard-core too.

The  remote town is nestled in a valley between green rolling mountains and vertical snowcapped ones that were so high up their peaks were often indistinguisuable from the clouds. As my brother informed me, way back when, the indigenous army built dikes above the town to collect water run-off from the mountains and then released it to destroy the colonial town.  Creative, no? Sorata doesn`t see  near the amount of tourism as others on the “gringo trail”.  Ben, a Colorodian who`d moved to Sorata a few years before, lured by it`s untapped mountain biking trails,  explained that the locals still didn`t know what to make of the slowly burgeoning tourism. Their skepticism of European (looking) people went very far back and trust  didn`t come easily. How it affects the kids is interesting too. Some are very curious and friendly, others shy and some stand on the road and shout, “Regalame dulces! Regalame plata!”

I ended up spending relaxing days and nights there. I met 3 Israelis and joined them for a couple of day hikes. One was to an underground cave where you cold rent paddle boats and the other to a peak overlooking the town with nothing but cows and a soccer field on the tippy top. Both included intense games of SET, sitting in the sun listening to music, eating avocado sandwiches and getting eaten alive by bugs. One of my ankles swelled up so much I was sure I had typhoid or something else that I`d forgotten to get vaccinated. No other symptoms developed, I think it was just a cankle so big I could barely fit into my shoe. hot.

After a few hours on dusty roads, La Paz is a shocking first sight.  A city of 2 million built into a gaping valley and seemingly crawling up its walls. It  seems so fragile, especially in comparison with the relatively barren wind-swept countryside and the multiple nearby 6000m peaks. The visual contrast made the city look so impermanent as if we are just temporarily renting some space on the Earth.

The first night in the busy, crowded La Paz I went to Shabat dinner with my Israeli friends. It was at a Chabad  house, an international organization that  promotes Judaism and hosts shabats all over the world. I still can`t believe I found it. The packed room of Israelis was on the 4th floor of a deserted  parking garage in a the “traveller`s ghetto” part of La Paz. It was fun and the food delicious even if I didn`t understand a word. (They did teach me how to count to ten in Hebrew though.)

I was craving getting out and partaking in all of the great outdoors Bolivia has to offer. I did a day hike to Chaclataya at 5400m and there met Ineke, a woman from Belgium preparing to do a 3  day trek to the Condoriri a few days later. She persuaded me to join. After weeks and around 3000m or above I was feeling pretty decent. Of course there was still the occasional set of stairs  that would take me by surprise and leave me gasping at the top.

The Condoriri trek was great. It ended up just being Ineke and I, our donkeys that helped carry the supplies and our lovely guide, Patricio. He`s one of those people who has a tangibly gentle, peaceful soul. He patiently walked at a snail´s pace for us and enjoyed talking about Bolivian culture and politics and explaining  Incan traditions and beliefs.

Sometimes I forget how good it feels to stop and to breath and to get away from everything until I actually do it. The nights were freezing and the days were long, but the views, landscape and freshly caught trout dinners more than made up for it. We saw herds of llama and alpacas, found a fossil with some type of  tiny animal in it and even saw an avalanche come down one of the mountains.

Speaking of beliefs here, there`s a witch market in La Paz where they sell llama fetuses for good luck, dried armadillos and frogs, and San Pedro cactus which is ingested as a hallucinogenic and used in ceremony and by shaman (and thrill-seeking tourists).

From La Paz I aimed for Sucre to meet up with Ellie and Chaz and Shelly, her friends that she`s travelling with. I `d seen them for a few hours in La Paz the night before I left for the trek. It happened to be 4th of July so we hung out at their hostal (which was also a brewery conveniently) and played American trivia and watched fireworks shot off from the back deck.  I went to buy my bus ticket to Sucre only to find out there was a road blockade and no cars were getting through to Sucre so I`d have to wait another day. I was disappointed to be stranded and to have to rent another night in La Paz when I was feeling ready to get out. I ended up meeting up with  Ineke and her friend  Alex from New York. I contributed healthily to killing a couple of bottles of not so good Bolivian wine and a decent bottle of Chilean wine in order to drown my sorrows.

The next day I had intended to do some gift shopping, but ended up pretty worthless, feeling the effects of red wine multiplied times 3700m. After dragging around all day I made it on my 8pm bus and arrived to Sucre about 8am the next morning. We stayed in a cute hostal with a big flower filled (maybe speckled) patio. We went on a DinoTour (yes, in a truck with a giant T-Rex head coming out the front) to a site where thousands of dinosaur footprints were found around 20 years ago.  What I liked about it most, besides the excuse to be a big dork, was seeing how the country, which today is completely land locked used to be entirely flat and right on the ocean (when Pangea was separating and doing its thing) and that the continent coming together formed all of the mountains and unique geological structures (volcanos, geysers, hot springs, colored lakes etc) you see everywhere today. it´s crazy! Sucre was great, I wish I could have stayed longer, it`s a small, tranquil city with lots of white buildings, tiled roofs and beautiful architecture. We went out Saturday night in search of some Reggaeton (Ellie and I were suffering Kenkos withdrawals). The first travel guide suggested club we went to was absolutely deserted, so after taking pictures of the sleeping bartender (for reals) and us dancing on the  empty tables, we left and wandered upon Tropical. This club had a line out the door and no white kids in sight, and we found dance floor happiness.

Bus ride to Uyuni was lonnnnnng and dusty and crowded and there were kids puking on and off the whole way. Other than that the 12 hour transportation day went smoothly. We arrived in Uyuni at dusk and booked a room at Residencial Cabana for it`s promised heated rooms and sauna. Uyuni has to be one of the coldest, wind chilled places on the planet in the middle of nowhere. If it wasn`t for the tourism it would be a ghost town. At this point I was torn between doing the 1 day tour of Salar de Uyuni (the salt flats) with Ellie and friends or parting ways and doing a 3 day tour of the salt flats and surrounding areas. My mind was helped made when Ellie woke up really sick and couldn`t go. The tour was so much fun. We`d heard dubious things about sketchy tour operators, but  minus our driver who had the bad habit of starting to fall asleep while driving it was fine. We  saw flamingos flying and played  in the salt for hours taking perspective pictures and had lunch on an “island” in the middle of the salt.  While there was obviously lots more to see, I was happy with the 1 day choice and more than relieved to book a ticket for the next morning out of Uyuni to the reportedly warmer Tupiza. I`d go on about the 5:30am unheated bus ride, where we could see our breath for the first 3 hours, had to sit on our toes to keep them from falling off, shared the bus with a lamb and litter of kittens, then  broke down twice on the mountainous dirt roads, but at this point I`d just be rambling. Makes you appreciate more reliable forms of transportation and how much harder even simple things can be in s country with less infrastructure. That said, everyone one on the bus was calm, the girl took her lamb outside to  pee, a couple of men went out to help the driver work on the bus. It was just a part of every-day-life and we made it…eventually.

Ellie and her friends left yesterday morning for Argentina and I went for a horseback ride through the red rock canyons.  I leave Tupiza, which has by far been the friendliest town I`ve been in yet, in a couple of hours  on yet another overnight back to La Paz.  Fighting yet another cold, today was a good day to hole up in an Internet cafe and write. Less than 2 weeks left, let`s see what kind of addventures can be fit in!! Hasta pronto!

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El sur del Perù con mi hermana

So much to write about. Ali has come and gone and I`m hanging out in Bolivia now.

We became quite the efficient travellers, fitting in 9 cities, 3 overnight bus rides, 3 illnesses, 1 Incan sun festival, a World Wonder and multiple World Cup games in just under 2 weeks. Unfortunately, it was Ali who suffered from all 3 sicknesses. She was very stoic and as my dad would say, strong like a bull about the whole thing. We met up in Lima (she came bearing gifts: Orbit gum, the updated version of Lonely Planet South America, Clinique eye cream and a headband you can wear 9 different ways – what a sister!). We stayed 2 nights there and had time for her to meet my friends, try Pisco Sours and spend an afternoon in Huaycàn.

From there we headed south along the coast and stopped in Chincha for the afternoon (Lonely Planet claimed it was the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture, known for its lively music scene, but it reminded me more of Bodie, a California ghost town I visited once when I was little. Maybe it was the wrong time of year?) We went sandboarding in Huacachina which we both loved. To get to the “slopes” we rode out into the desert a couple of hours before sunset in a dunebuggy. Even with decent snowboarding abilities, carving in the sand was pretty difficult so we soon switched to lying on our stomachs which actually makes for a much faster ride.  After a relaxing night in Huacachina we took our first overnight bus on the luxurious line, Cruz del Sur (lots of steps up from Julio Cesar that Cristina and I took to Huaraz where they made us pee on the side of the road). Ali was convinced our bus was going to get hijacked (which does happen) so I agreed to splurge on transportation costs – although honestly if you were going to rob a bus, wouldn`t you go for the expensive one totinging all of the gringos? Well, we made it to Arequipa safe and sound under our warm blankets, in our comfy semi-cama beds and American movies to put us to sleep.

We spent 2 days shopping, listening to traditional Andean music, exploring the mysterious Santa Catalina monastery and walking to get the best views of the stunning volcano El Misti that looms over the city. This is around when Ali started to feel off from the food or water or who knows…so I went out one of the nights to meet up for drinks with a couple of CouchSurfers Ivan and Carlos to get a feel for the local scene (ironically we went to one of Lonely Planet`s top pick bars).  Next, was Cusco and we were there for the days leading up to Inti Raymi (the Inca`s Festival of the Sun), it`s one of the largest festivals in South America, and while officially celebrated on June 24th, the whole month is filled with festivities leading up to it and the  city swells with revelers. Cusco is a stunning city, the clouds seemed extra white against a stunning blue sky and the hills surrounding the city are every shade of green and gold. At around 3400 m, and with hills that rival Russian Hill, the altitude really took its toll. We found ourselves stopping at least every hour to go into a café, catch our breath, and take in a little fùtbol or perch on some steps to people watch in the packed plazas where parades of costumed dancers were continuously going by.

From Cusco, we took a collectivo to Ollantaytambo and from there a train to Aguas Calientes, a pueblo saturated with tourists coming and going from Machu Pichu. We slept a few hours in Aguas Calientes only to wake up at 3:30am and scramble for the bus lines in the hopes to be one of the first 200 people so that we could climb Wayna Pichu. Wayna Pichu is the vertical looking peak just beyond the ruins and only 400 people are allowed each day. 200 at 7am and another 200 at 10am. We ended up just making it! And, I`m so glad we did. I really think that made the day for both of us. Machu Pichu is, of course spectacular, but you can only wander in and out of ruins for so long exclaiming ooh and ahh. Getting to push ourselves physically and to be rewarded with a stunning view took it to a whole other level (and no, I still haven`t gotten to uploading pics, oops – but, Ali did and they`re on FB!) We also hiked to the Sun gate that afternoon, which is where those who hike the Inca Trail get their first glimpse of Machu Pichu after a 4 day trek – also spectacular.

Fastforwarding a bit, we spent a night in Ollantaytambo and another day in Cusco and then took an overnight to Puno, a town on the southern border of Peru and right on Lake Titicaca. Puno in and of itself doesn`t have a whole lot to offer. It`s known for its tours to the floating islands and Isla Taquile and Amantani. We took one such tour and it was comically horrible topped off with one of the most awkward people, let alone tour guides I`ve ever encountered. Ali loved him, especially when he invaded her bubble and repeatedly asked inane questions in both Spanish and English. He also had the unfortunate habit of spitting when he spoke.  The floating islands were conceptually interesting (30 years ago entire communities lived on hand-built islands and boats made of reeds and mud) but today the whole thing feels more like Sea World…nah, too nice – Raging Waters. Exploited is the perfect word for it. Both, for the people who  used to live their lives in relative isolation and whom now put on a daily show and even as tourists we felt exploited. Each stop we made we were pressured to buy things and extra fees kept popping up throughout the day. Our low of the day was when Ali and I were sitting together to take a picture and at the last minute a girl jumped in with us and then demanded a Sol (for making the picture more authentic?)

It`s a hard thing and one that I`ve defintely wrestled back and forth with, whether tourism does more harm for a community or good? In theory, most travel because they are curious about different people and parts of the world and want to see and learn more about it. The downsides seem more obvious when travelling in a place where there is such great economic disparity. As a Canadian world traveller that I met in Sorata said, you constantly go back and forth between either feeling guilty or angry about being taken advantage of/ripped off. Neither are pleasant and there must be some balance but I can`t say I know what that is.

Anyhow, we spent our last night in Puno with over half of the people from our tour group, lots of bonding that took place over our shared misery, so it wasn`t all bad. =) Ali took off the next day back to Lima where she spent one more night at my friend`s house in Miraflores before flying back to the Northern of the Americas. I miss her; it was a great trip.

I`m spending my Friday night at Loki, one of the “party hostals” but as you can see I decided to take advantage  of the free Internet rather than the 2nd floor bar. Tomorrow I`m hiking Chacaltaya with a tour company, going to try to CouchSurf tomorrow night and hopefully meet up with Ellie in La Paz on Sunday. More to come from Bolivia soon!

Buenos Suerte! (one of my first nights in Huaycan I meant to say Goodnight and said Good Luck instead – when no one corrected me, the mis-saying stuck =)

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Chau, Huaycàn

The volunteer/Huaycan portion has ended and with it comes the cocktail of emotions that transitions usually elicit. I´m sad to leave Huaycan and Lima, the amazing LLI, my classes and students and all the wonderful people I´ve had the pleasure of working and playing with. Last week it was hard not to get nostalgic on my last jarring combi ride down from Zone Z or remain dry-eyed throughout my last Friday night at Kenko`s; but, more than anything, difficult  so say goodbye to people I`ve really connected with and grown to care about in such a relatively short amount of time. As I joked with Amy and Ellie, I hate emotions, especially when I feel them. Besides, it´s hard to feel too down knowing the sadness comes from having had such a rich and satisfying experience. And, now that now is here, I am excited for whatever comes next.

After a wonderful, action-packed, sleep-challenged last week in Lima, Ali arrived Monday afternoon. Tuesday she got a quick and dirty (literally) tour of Huaycan and then yesterday began our trip south stopping in Chincha and are now in Huacachina about to head out on a dunebuggy/sandboarding tour before taking an overnight bus to Arequipa. We have a lot to get in during her 2 week visit! It`s wonderful having her here.

Now, after the comfort that I found in Huaycan, every day will be much different.  It`s been interesting to notice those two opposite and sometimes conflicting pulls, one for stability and the other for novelty and change. And that neither is necessarily good or bad and that I`m learning a lot from both as I go.

To anyone I didn`t get a chance to say goodbye to and one more time to those that I did, thank you so much for making my time and experiences in Huaycan/Lima everything that they were. Mucho amor y abrazos fuertes!!

– Promise, to work on getting more pics up on FB soon!  Here´s a few from the anniversary party last weekend http://choclogrande.blogspot.com/

– Also, a few of you have asked me more about the LLI. It´s a wonderful organization run by inspiring people, if you want to read more about it or are looking for a non-profit to support (or volunteer with!) http://www.lightandleadership.org/donate.html

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I´m happy.

Hi, how are you? I´m good, thank you. I never knew that it´s incorrect to respond with “I´m good”. These are the types of things you should know as an ESL teacher. Most of my smaller kids answer the question with, “I´m happy” which is grammatically sound* and pretty adorable.

The trip to Huaraz last week was great – Cristina and I managed to find decent adventures in our few day visit. Huaraz and the surrounding mountain ranges, the Codillera Blanca and Codillera Negra are spectacular. It´s crisp mountain air, (which at 4000m, walking one block felt like running while chain-smoking) shockingly blue sky, towering snow-capped peaks and rolling green and brown hills scattered with crops, cows and sheep will not be easily forgotten.

The first night we stayed with Luz´s great uncle and aunt in their hospedaje/barber shop/home/where they raised baby chicks. I’ll just let your imagination run wild with that one and hope to post pics soon. (which btw, I finally replaced my knicked and sold for parts Sony with a Canon) Tío Machi was very warm, although hard of hearing, so between that and my ever-expanding vocabulary we mostly communicated through his grandson Luis. Luis showed us around the first day, made us coca tea and waited patiently while we browsed hand-knit alpaca and sheep´s wool garments in the markets.

Day 2:  We intended to visit the Chavin de Huantar Ruins with a recommended tour company. However, after arriving at the stated departure time, and no bus in sight I inquired for updates. I was informed that they didn´t have enough people signed up and wouldn´t be going that day. I was annoyed we´d been waiting around for 45 mins while no one told us anything and even more annoyed when they tried to push the next day´s tour on us instead.  We´d already decided we wanted to visit the Pastoruri Glacier the following day. After some debating we compromised and jumped on a tour to Llanganuco with a sister tour company. Like most glitches, it ended up working out and  probably for the better (I´m not really all that into ruins anyhow). We headed out of Huaraz throughout gorgeous countryside, past Huascarán, the highest mountain in Peru at 6,768 meters and stopped at Yangay, a town completely buried in 1970 by a glacier shaken loose from an earthquake. 18,000 people died and there were only 90 survivors. Eerie to visit and of course incredibly tragic. After the modern-day Pompeii detour we continued to wind up and up and more up. We stopped at a small, overpriced restaurant literally in the middle of nowhere. I had trucha frita and my new Peruvian born, Connecticut-raised friend opted for the fried cuy. After my hamster-filled childhood, I´m still working up the courage to try one. Finally we made it up to the Llanganuco lagoon, situated 3800 and fed by the snow from mounts Huascaran, Huandoy, Pisco, Yanapaccha, and Chopicalqumeters. The water is a stunning turquoise color and the lake´s edge surrounded by trees with burnt red colored bark and sheer granite cliffs. Unfortunately we barely had an hour at the lake. I was about a minute away from being left behind after wandering off a bit too far to explore (thank goodness for my responsible travel buddy =).

Day 3: As much as we enjoyed our fated tour, we decided to explore on our own. (Touristy things make me cranky – I should probably start mentally preparing now for the Machu Picchu crowds.) We heard about a day hike not to far out of Huaraz to Laguna Churup. This time we hopped on a combi and hoped it was in the right direction based off of a hand drawn map. The combi was headed way out into the country side so most on the combi was filled with local farmers and tradespeople. As we didn´t exactly fit in a few women started asking us questions and before long everyone on the bus was asking questions and telling us the best way to go to find the trail head.  It was our understanding that it was about 1.5 hours to the trail head and 2-4 hours to the lake depending upon your fitness and aclimization to the elevation. We hopped off where we were told to in the remote countryside and started up what looked like a trail that we hoped went to Pitak and our trail head to Churup. It was a hot day and with the altitude we went a lot slower than we´d estimated. After 2 and a half hours of climbing through foothills and winding through farm land we made it to Pitak. We´d planned on restocking on water and maybe grabbing some lunch there. However we had wrongly assumed Pitak was a town. It turned out to only consist of a wooden sign that said Pitak-Churup loop and pointed the right direction. So, we sat by the sign, ate some crackers and tangerines, sipped the last of our water and turned back towards Huaraz. I wasn´t dissappointed though. We´d gone out on our own, gotten away from the buzz of the city and avoided being shuffled about on someone else´s schedule. On top of that we got to experience a beautiful and authentic picture of day-to-day life in this part of  Peru. It was a satisfying day and we took a night bus back to Lima that night.

¿Qué mas?

Jumpstyle – Finally made it to Sunday night Jumpstyle dancing at a club in Huaycan. It´s kind of an underground scene here, that caught on from Europe where all of the hipster youth hang out. (I´m a good few inches taller than the average person in Huaycan and I went with Amy, whom at 5´10¨  towers over the crowd.) I think I kind of  got one of the dances down, but since its dark and the lights are flashing you can just jump up and down like you´re jumping rope and fit in just fine. Minus the giant gringa thing we had going on.

Peruvian drinking. Instead of everyone getting an individual beer, you get a pitcher of (beer/sangria…whatever your taste buds or prefrontal cortex may be craving) and one glass. Then, you fill up the glass, someone else holds the pitcher, you finish your glass, shake it out and pass to the next person. It´s much more social.

So, yes, I continue to like it here. I´m happy. I can´t decide if I love it or not though. I mean, I´m loving my experience but not sure if I LOVE Peruvian culture the way you love a place when you love everything about it and could stay almost forever. This stage reminds me a bit of when you first meet a person, and you know you like them but you can´t quite figure out what makes them tick. Or maybe it´s more like dating someone who you are enjoying getting to know, and whose company you like and perhaps are even learning a lot from, but not sure if you could fall in love. Culture and inner workings of the country aside, my judgments of Peruvians thus far are that they are generally friendly, humble,  and gracious people.

Now I just need to be able to say the same for myself. After returning from Huaraz it´s been a hectic week; 2 volunteers left and 2 new ones arrived. Plus, there has been a flurry of equipment rental, vocab review sessions, sign and ticket making etc for the one year LLI celebration this Sunday. (Day of, I´m on tent set up, face painting and vocab judge duty. I get my own microphone.) All of that, plus minor sleep deprivation from 2 overnight bus rides, a night where chirping chicks and fear of earthquakes in old hospedajes kept me up and then coming back to a fairly aggressive Sat. night house party, AND then last night´s kareoke welcome to the new volunteers = I was feeling pretty burnt out, moody and otherwise antisocial. (It also dawned on me that in addition to living in a crowded house that allows for little privacy, I´d become quite accustomed to alone time while living in Carmel. Between my solo hikes, bike rides and Bridget walks and with only my parents and 2.5 friends to distract me, I´d become quite the functional loner.)

Having spent today, a day off: sleeping in, doing laundry (hand washing clothes is quite therapeutic) going for a run (which I rarely do here (dust, zero flat and lots of stares), watching a movie and otherwise vegging, I feel much better and am back to happy again.

Shalom y sueños dulces

* I choose not to believe in run-on sentences.

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I´ve decided to extend my time in Huaycan. Instead of leaving June 1st, I´ll stay the 14th (when Ali arrives!) and plan to do a couple of few day trips from here. This way, I´ll get to be here for the LLI´s one year anniversary celebration – the kids from all of our classes will compete in a Vocab bee for prizes and there will be displays of their art and then dancing (Peruvian and line (to Shania, cannot miss this=)). On top of that, I´m not ready to leave yet. I have 2 classes with brand news students that just began last week and I´m really enjoying teaching those.  Both of the new classes are very beginning level English. As in days of the weeks, colors and “hi, how are you”. My youngest student in these classes is 13 and oldest are ladies in their 40s. I really love working with the older teens and adults. Heart-warmed doesn´t even begin to describe how I felt, helping a mother of 4 who never finished highschool pronounce the ABCs . In my other class there´s a woman who teaches preschool age kids and she´s trying to learn more English to pass on to them. Last class she brought a list of phrases to translate like Repita después de mi, Sientate and Levante su mano. I loved it, they were identical to the phrases I made sure I´d brushed up on before coming here.

I´ve wrestled a bit with the purpose of this blog; whether or not it´s purpose is to give an accurate depection of  how I´m spending my time or how I feel about and attribute meaning to said experiences. Bullet points give me some structure, and my overuse of parenthesis allow for context, so apologies for my amateur but perhaps blog appropriate writing crutches.

  • On Sunday, we took some of the kids on a field trip to el Museo del Arte in Lima to seen an exhibit by pop culture photographer, Mario Testino (3 of the girls had never even been to Lima before! and none of them knew who Madonna is! You might not think this is surprising, but they love Taylor Swift so I´m thinking this is more generational than cultural. i.e. I´m getting old.).
  • I ate delicious ceviche from a vendor way up in Zone S. I´m pretty proud of my stomach for handling raw, unrefrigerated fish and tap water washed accouterments.
  • Day trip to Matucana, a pristine, bordering on eerily quiet town about 70km east of Lima in the foothills, with Nigel and Cristina (my new roommate, who´s from Portland = yay, new friend). We hiked up to a waterfall and had beautiful views of the valley. It felt so good to be out in the fresh air and open space. I´d be lying if I said I don´t miss my regular runs at Carmel beach and hikes in Garland. Oh, and speaking of missing, we were accompanied by Freddie the dog. Ellie and Amy had met him a few weeks before and told us to keep an eye out for him. Within 2 minutes of seeing foot on the trail he ran up to us, tail wagging and proceeded to lead the way there and back. I got my dog fix. Don´t tell Bridet.
  • Oh, and on the hike Cristina wasn´t feeling great so we were heading back down really slowly (ok, my broken knees were hurting too, it was completely altruistic) anyway, Nigel went down ahead by a good 15 mins. As we were coming down one of the last turns we saw a “man” stopped on the side of the trail who kept looking up at us. This time I really can blame, Cristina, she got paranoid that he was waiting for us and proceeds to pick up a large rock. For good measure, i put my knife in my shorts pocket. A few turns before we reached him, he started walking ahead. When we got to the bottom this same man was animatedly talkng with Nigel. Turns out he was a 65+, 4´11″ she who yelled at Nigel for 5 mins straight, in Spanish he didn´t understand, asking what kind of man he was to leave us behind on the trail.
  • Regretted introducing vueltos and caballitos to the little kid PE class.  Now they demand being spun and carried around until I can´t see straight.
  • Friday night we went out to Kenkos to dance. Normal. Giant guinea pig (furry, if you will) also out dancing. Not so normal. One of my housemates up on stage dancing with said cuy furry = priceless. I won´t name names and tragically there are no pictures.

Speaking of which, I really love our house dynamic. It´s full of good-natured strife and complementary quirkiness. There are currently 6 volunteers living here ranging from 19-28, not including Lara and Luz. I feel like I´ve known most a lot longer than just 3 weeks.  There´s something to be said for open minded, warm-hearted people and their transitory souls.  If it wasn´t for Gilmore Girls being the default tv show on, I´d have nothing to complain about.

My original intention with this post was to write about the differences I´ve noticed between US and Peruvian culture.  But, I have to go pack for an overnight bus leaving tonight for Huaraz. Last minute, I decided to join Cristina for a few day trip to the “outdoor adventure capital” of Peru. So, my sociological musings will have to wait and my short updates will have to do for now.


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Cultura de ´No pasa nada´

After 2 weeks in Huaycan (as of last Friday), the thing that has taken the most adjustment is the pace. Many days I don´t have much that I have to do. Classes are in the afternoon or early evening, so apart from lesson planning, occasional educational programs and community projects and my biweekly Spanish lessons my schedule is pretty open. For someone historically comfortable running around like a crazy person, checking everything from laundry to study for the GREs to “relax” off of my daily list, a lull in tempo can be anxiety provoking. 

Then there is the indisputable fact that regardless of down time, I´ve chosen to volunteer in a developing  community.  Even my You´re Never Good Enough demon doesn´t have her usual whip cracking clout. The exposed distortion has made me realize, you can go and hang out on the opposite hemisphere, but you still have to live inside of your own head. If I started a decompression process by quitting my job and moving back to Carmel Valley, the momentum has continued here in Peru.

Despite the lack of obligatory time commitments…I have managed to find exciting things to do and relatively mild trouble to get into.

Some of the highlights have included:

  • Day trip with housemates, Nigel and Ellie (Aussie, 2 week volunteer and Brit, 6 month) to the warm, leisurely town of Chosica, with a giant white Jesus off of the main plaza and amazing picarones, dessert of fried squash/sweet potato dough drizzled in chancaca honey (Luz´s aunt makes and sells them at the market)
  • Day trip into Lima with Meri, (my Finnish housemate and 6 month volunteer) to National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and then wine and pisco tasting (loved the cereza flavored pisco)
  • Went to the local highschool´s (where some of our students go) annual celebration. Beautiful, traditional Peruvian dancing, fireworks  and the best part: Dragon and Cow floats that shot firecrackers and sparklers and chased screaming/laughing kids all around the courtyard
  • Meri led Finnish night for the women´s group. She taught a traditional dance (which looked a lot like the Bunny Hop to me…), about Finland´s first and current female president, saunas (there are 5 million people in Finland and over 2 million saunas) and 24 hour days of light during the summer  (I proposed line dancing, hot dogs and the history of rhinoplasty for U.S. night next week…)
  • Kicking off the new Green living group with a viewing of Al Gore´s Una Verdad Incomoda
  • Wiped out playing soccer in flip-flops on the cement canchita. Since then, I vowed to return from PE without blood or bruises, so we have stuck to the slightly safer, Pata, Pata, Goose!
  • Found the one English pub in Lima and watched Ellie´s team, Fulham lose to Atletico in OT in the Europa League final – Xanax and I had to talk her down from the edge
  • Going up to Zone Z for the first time on my own, running out of gas on the dirt road near the top and having to cruise motorlessly all the way back down to get gas
  • A couple of birthday celebrations: one for Lara´s mutual friend, Francie (Germany) who works and lives in Lima. We went out to an outdoor discotec right on the water in Barranco and danced until 5:30 – whose a grandma now?? ;)  The other b-day was  Adrian´s (Peru), friend of new Limean friends, house party then club in Miraflores playing everything from Uruguayan electronico to Lady Gaga.

I´ll end the list with my lowest lowlight to report thus far. My purse was stolen while walking back from the highschool dance the other night. I was with Ellie, and we should have taken the offer to be walked home by local friend boys or at the very least should have taken more of a main road. Of course having my wallet and camera (and pretty, colorful purse – i got to keep the straps) stolen fills me with a combination of anger and feeling foolish and vulnerable. But as many have pointed out, it´s all replaceable, nothing worse happened and now I´ll be that much more aware. Even unfortunate happenings and uncomfortable feelings have potential good, so here´s to the silver lining*.

* As this is my second incident of 2010 I intend to start jijitsu in Brazil and to be a blackbelt soon thereafter.

Alright, bed time. We´re getting up early tomorrow to rebuild a collapsed roof in one of the classrooms. And getting up before 9am is going to be a shock to my lazy volunteer ass ;)

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La semaña primera: Huaycán

I arrived in Huaycán last Friday. It feels worlds away from Lima. (With traffic it takes about an hour and a half by combi even though it’s only 16km East of Lima.) It´s always hazy. There´s almost no green, and dusty doesn´t begin to describe the feeling of being perpetually covered by a fine layer of dirt. There are only a few paved roads in a town of 180,000; combis and moto taxis zip around dodging dogs and one another. Street vendors line the busy main road, Quince and colorful houses standout against the drab rocky hillside.  I love it here.

I live in a house with 6 other volunteers plus one of the founder’s Luz in zone D which is home to the Light and Leadership Initiative. Zone D is one of the more wealthy (wealth being quite relative), with the zones becoming progressively poorer the further up and away from the main streets you go. Zone Z, for example where a few of my classes are might as well be Mars. There isn’t much up there, save a couple of small stores that sell things like Coke,  bread and fruit. The homes range from cement structures to unstable looking, one room shacks.  The community consists of thousands of immigrant settlers who moved from the Andes hoping for better opportunities. Many were fleeing from the Shining Path, the brutal communist party that launched an insurgency in the 80s. Up until a few years ago, the residents had no legal rights to the land, but today Huaycán is a town recognized by the government.

My first day there I got a quick tour of the house, met my house mates/fellow volunteers and  jumped on a combi to observe the first couple of classes being taught up in Zone Z. Combis are wild. They´re ricketty van sized buses that zoom up and down the streets on no particular schedule. You simply stand on the side of the road and it won´t take long for one to stop. There is an operater who hangs off of the side to collect fares and alert the driver when to stop by banging his hand against the outside panelling. Two bangs stop, one bang go.  They can get very crowded. I would have thought 20 was the absolute max that could fit, but on my first ride up to Zone Z, I counted well over 30 from my squatted position on the floor.

The kids here that we teach are pretty amazing. Most immediately came up and either asked my name, grabbed my hand or gave me a kiss on the cheek. After substitute teaching it´s been quite the contrast to see kids so engaged and hungry to learn.  For the next 2 weeks, I´ll be teaching all of the classes for a long-term volunteer, Amy who is travelling right now. I have a very elementary class with 6-9 year olds, a more advanced one with 10-13 year olds, 2 PE classes (fútbol y volibol!), a conversation course with older teens and early 20s and then I help out with an art class. Most days we have time to prep in the mornings, have lunch at the house prepared by our excellent cook Dina, and then head to class in the afternoons and sometimes evening classes. Wednesday and Thursday are our days off in which most volunteers head into Lima or plan various trips to other cities in Peru.

Being a gringa here is different from in other Latin American cities I´ve vistited. Huaycán has absolutely zero tourism. Most Limeans have never been.  So, standing out takes on a whole new meaning. My first night here, our house was really full. Amy´s 2 sisters and 4 friends were visiting for the weekend before they took off to travel. The occasion called for a night out at Kankos, the out-of-place modern discoteca about 15 minutes down the road in Santa Clara. Besides being an anomaly, (hey, I don´t mind being someone else´s entertanment) , it was a great night.  I got to try out my salsa, pisco sours and get a taste of  Reggaetown, addicitive dance music that is very popular here .

May 1st was el Día de los Trabajadores, all day and well into the next morning I could hear fireworks going off and music blaring. A block or so from where I live there was a big party in an open square between homes. There is a tradition where men take turns chopping a tree and the person to cut it all the way through pays for the party. At least I think that´s how it works – kind of like a piñata…with a tree…and no candy at the end.

Hope that gives a small taste of the dynamic dusty life that is Huaycan, thus far.

Note: I haven´t figured out yet how to upload lots of pictures to the blog yet, but am posting a bunch on FB for your viewing pleasure.

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La primera semaña: Lima

Lima is not a top ranked tourist city. Most visitors fly in, spend a day or two and then move on to the more trodden destinations like Cusco and Machu Picchu. The 3 nights I spent in Lima, I had the luxury of my own apartment located in the trendy district of Miraflores. My CouchSurfing host, Roberto lives with his mother and sister (which is  common for 20-30 something adults who don´t have their own families). He recently purchased an apartment with the intention of renting it out;  in the meantime he hospitably shares it with budget challenged travellers. No complaints!

While not a beautiful city in a traditional sense, Lima has many different districts that cover all ends of the sensory and socioeconomic spectrum. (As you´d expect from a city of 8 million.) I spent the days wandering around and exploring different recommended areas.  

Palatable highlights included trying Jugo de Lúcuma con leche – (juice made from a yummy jungle fruit with milk), and trying anticuchos,  which are skewered and grilled  meat from the heart of a cow. Yep, me pseudo vegetarian ate cow heart. It was really good too. (We´ll see if I get up the courage to try Cuy aka guinea pig.)

The people are really friendly, 2 days of exploring resulted in offers to stay with family members, hand-drawn maps, and an ice cream date. Which leads me into the pros and cons of being a solo female traveller. I had a few volunteers to be my tour guide for the day. Most were polite, tolerant of my broken Spanish and eager to share about their country.  I was taken to el Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos which was founded in 1551 and one of the oldest universities in the world, Barranco, an artsy/bohemian district with older colorful homes and striking ocean views and to get good traditional food like ceviche and carapulcra (Peruvian stew). Sergio, however, was on the more insistent side and his advances took more effort that I cared for to brush off. This was around the time I added “Soy una monja” to my vocabulary.  

After feeling awkward, dumb and or embarrassed at different points, I had to remind myself that part of travelling is about being out of your comfort zone. Not being afraid to admit I sometimes feel afraid or uncomfortable has done wonders.

I love that while walking around in a new place; I can´t help but be rooted in the moment – no easy feat. All senses are attune. Taking in the smells, observing people´s expressions, looking at the same sky from under a new vantage point… all while trying  not to get lost or mugged sharpens my awareness and is very refreshing.

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