Monday, February 28, 2011

North, South and all about!

Like always, I am going to start this blog with an apology. I try to keep it up to date but the adventures keep piling up and now I have TWO trips to write about and about 55555 other little things I’d love to share. I guess it’s a good thing… everyday I go out to see something new and there just isn’t time to write about it all. I much prefer it this way than the opposite! Anyway, I am going to say the horribly cliché but completely accurate


… on the 22nd of every month at midnight I celebrate my anniversary of arriving in Peru. At first it was a delight and slight shock that I had lived in a foreign country 1, 2, 3 months. But now I am Peruvian and this is my home. Everyday I learn more about myself, the world, and this country. I have never had the slightest desire to go home but now the thought is even more painful… I have so much to explore and so little time. I don’t want to leaveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! But since the goodbyes are inevitable I am determined to fill these last three months full to bursting and arrive back in Wenatchee tired, out of breath and completely awed by what I have seen, done and heard. On that note I will recount my latest travels.

Trip to the North #2

It was COMPLETELY different. Everything from the basic structure of the trip to the cities we visited to the food we ate was polar opposite. The first trip was self organized and go-with-the-flow… when an opportunity presented itself we took it and ran. We ate when we were hungry and slept when we were tired. It was also economical. As in a very minimalist exchange student sort of budget. This second trip was organized though a travel company. Our group of 12 (10 exchange students and two adults) was led by a guide named Mercedes and she was in charge- in charge of everything. It was quite a contrast and at least in my case taught me that I do NOT like group traveling. We were large, clumsy and inflexible. We spent an unreasonable amount of time waiting and had zero freedom to break into smaller groups or split up. There was a complete lack of communication and lots of complaints about food, transportation and just about everything else. The problem was that Mercedes had our 300 bucks and the money that she didn’t spend was what she earned. Thus she was stingy on a lot of stuff but then spent money on ridiculous things that we didn’t want. She never specified exactly what the trip included or what the procedure was for food and travel. Sometimes she did things like hire a private van for 11 and make us sit four across for a two and a half hour ride. Or she would ask one person what they wanted to eat and then order it for everyone. grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr That being said, it was still a good trip. I don’t mean to make it sound like I didn’t enjoy myself because I did. As a group of exchange student we got to know each other a lot better and had lots of fun sharing stories and laughing. We played little kid games in Spanish, French and English and generally made fools of ourselves. The Rotarian who accompanied us, Holger, was also super cool. He is 33 and acts younger which is a refreshing change from the average age of the Rotarians in my club. (grey haired and annoyingly respectable and proper) So don’t worry, we did have fun and get to see lots of interesting things I just don’t think there will be a repeat experience with that travel agency. Ever.
Basically here’s the run down. It was an 8 day trip and we made our way up the coast of Peru by bus stopping in Trujillo, Chiclayo, Colan, and Mancora. The first four days were spent getting to know the two major northern cities and seeing all of the archeological and historical sites (lots!). We stayed in the houses of Rotarians and got somewhat of an inside view of life in the North. The next two days were spent in an Interact conference. We listened to lectures, learned more about Interact and got to meet about 150 youth from all around the north of Peru. The last two days were beach time. Mancora was a repeat but Punta Sal was new and both beaches are GORGEOUS!!!
So, in Trujillo we arrived after sleeping all night on the bus and were dropped off with our three host families. Five of us stayed in the same house and they were the most welcoming, kindhearted couple I have met. They had a delicious breakfast waiting on the table when we arrived (starving and tired) and in the evening when we got back from the day’s tour they took us to buy sandals and eat. Trujillo is known for its quality factories and cheap prices so almost everyone buys shoes or clothes when they go. I think 5 of the 7 girls bought a pair and all of us paid less than 12 bucks. Yay for Peruvian prices! During the day we went on a tour of Huaka de la Luna which is an archeological site with ruins and a museum about the culture Mochica. We also went to the largest mud city in South America called Chanchan. It is remarkably well preserved and absolutely jaw dropping to learn about how organized the society was 5000 years ago. Our tour guide was the tiniest, most enthusiastic little lady ever. She was genuinely excited to talk for the 1000 time about the ancient culture and truly inspired me to find a job that I love. For lunch we ate ceviche on the beach and Savannah and I were brave enough to try out the Caballitos de Totora. They are somewhat like kayaks but much heavier and made of reeds. The same design has been used by the fishermen for thousands of years and it is pretty efficient with a seat in front for the paddler and a seat in back for the passenger or fish. The only downer is that the water is frigid and the guy paddling mine flipped us. Aggggggggggg! He was in a wetsuit but I was not. jaja After that I asked if I could try paddling and I will proudly say that we did not flip again!
In Chiclayo three of us were together in another very nice Rotary house. We almost never saw our “host dad” because he was busy working but the employee was super nice and became our friend/ host anyway. She was only 19 so when we had down time we went out exploring the city or sat talking with her and playing with the puppy.(Yoko is a 6 month mini poodle and he is adorable!!! ) The highlights of Chiclayo were definitely the pyramids of Tucume and Senor de Sipan. He is a fairly recent discovery (1987) but they estimate his tomb to be from the year 300. We went to see the tombs where he was found as well as the museum devoted entirely to him and his ancient culture. It is quite honestly the best museum I have ever been to and definitely worth a visit for anyone in the area. It was opened in 2002 and is top quality! The pyramids are from the culture Chimu and are about 1000 year old. We got to see their building technique and art work up close but the best part was hiking to the lookout. There are 26 pyramids in total and from the lookout you can see the entire valley. Two friends and I continued hiking upward from there and managed to make it to the highest point in the entire province. Incredible views… J We were Switzerland, France and the US standing together looking out over Peru. How awesome is that?

What else? The conference in Colan. I’ll start by saying that it was an interesting experience to say the least. There were some great parts and some very, very annoying parts. The great parts? We went to a gorgeous beach with lots of waves and awesome rock formations, there was a costume dance, we got to hang out with cool youth from the north, we saw the oldest church in South America, and we experienced an Interact Conference. The bad parts? The living conditions and long… long… long… lectures. The lectures are fairly self explanatory and somewhat expected but the living conditions were something else. We stayed in a school with 170 other people. We slept in a big room with thirty other people and almost no air. The lights never turned off. The mattresses didn’t have sheets or pillows, and I am quite certain that I shared my bed with about 500 other little critters. But all of that could have been passable… it was really the bathroom situation that got to me. There were three showers for 170 people and they weren’t even reliable. When there was water it came out in a dribble about as strong as a leaky faucet. When there wasn’t water we had two big plastic garbage cans full of water that we could use with buckets. But by the end of the night those were empty and we plain old didn’t have access to water. Which obviously means that the toilets didn’t work either. Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww I must say I was quite happy to move on to part three of the trip.
Beach time! I loved mancora the first time we visited but now I love it even more J We stayed in a bright colored hostel with a swimming pool and cute little balconies. We spent two days living the beach life and it was fabulous. My friend from Switzerland taught me how to body surf and my friend from France went running/exploring early in the morning with me. The white sand, warm water and hot sun were heaven! And Mancora is small enough that Mercedes gave us a little bit of rein and aside from meals we were free to spend our time doing whatever. We even ate one meal in a Mexican restaurant of our picking ( we had to pay the cost difference between her cheap-o meals and our delicious one but it was well worth the price)… I can’t explain how much I have missed Mexican food! I ordered a giant burrito and savored every bite of the tortilla, cheese, and pico de gallo goodness J And it’s a good thing that the last two days were so nice because the trip home was a DISASTER! Honestly! Mercedes switched our bus company from the reliable, safe and comfortable Cruz de Sur to abominable Roggiero. Once again it was the cheaper option. I had a full 24 hours to contemplate so I made a list of the 12 deadly sins of that bus. I don’t want it to sound like this entire post is complaints but it was really so bad that it was comical. And since you guys didn’t have to experience it, you should find it entirely comical!

1) The bus came 2 hours late so after hurrying as fast as possible while lugging giant suitcases for 6 blocks, we got to sit on the curb. Waiting… waiting… waiting… all the while thinking about the luxurious, lovely beach only half a mile away.
2) They messed up the luggage tags and we spent about 20 minutes trying to get them retagged and safely stored under the bus.
3) The gave us the incorrect seats so after two hours a huge group of passengers boarded and started yelling that we were their seats. “this is MY seat” “your in MY seat” “this is where I sit” “my backpack goes HERE”. Blah blah blah! We were half asleep and comfortable but after 20 minutes trying to solve the dilemma everyone was well awake and irritated…
4) There was no air conditioning and most of the windows didn’t open. It you can imagine that makes for a stifling, smelly and almost unbearable ride when it is hot summer outside.
5) There were no lights. All of the overhead lights were broken so when they turned off the lights it was pitch black. You couldn’t see to go to the bathroom, get something out of your bag or read after 7 pm. ugh. When it is impossible to sleep it is even worse to know that you can’t distract yourself with a book.
6) The TV’s didn’t work. Instead of playing something inspiration, funny or at least distracting then were dark and soundless then entire ride. What they did have as compensation was scratchy, makes-you-want-to-go-insane type of music that blared all night and didn’t let us sleep. Definitely an even switch (NOT.)
7) It was not a bed bus. The seats on the way there reclined to 150 and had a leg rest that made it relatively comfortable or at least possible to sleep. These did not. They went back as far as your average charter bus and nothing for the legs. UGH.
8) It was not a private bus that goes the entire way without stops. This thing stopped in every little town and let people on and off. Thus, we had the oh-so-wonderful vendors who like to board the buses and try to sell their miracle powder. The only thing is that they had to stay on for an hour + so they had to keep rattling on and on and on about the benefits of that magic powder… I was seriously ready to throw this guys briefcase full of magic powder out the window!!!
9) They don’t give you food. When you go with the good company they serve you little meals like on airplanes. They have water and tea and juice and give you snacks every once and a while. It’s really quite delicious… But on this piece of junk they don’t give you one little drop of water. Nothing. So what did our lovely guide give us for dinner? A banana and 5 crackers. Yup that’s right. We were getting to the harry potter level of starvation in a cupboard! haha
10) Someone stole my friends 350 euro camera. She had it clipped to the side of her seat between the wall and her feet and at some point during the night they cut the straps and took the camera. By the time she looked down to check on it in the morning the thief was gone. We searched the entire bus and even had the police get on but obviously it wasn’t there. After the fact a 14 year old girl sitting across the isle said that during the night a man stood up and disconnected a cable to the lights and then leaned down behind my friends seat. The girl said that the man accidently kicked her and that earlier in the day her money and pop had gone missing. The guy that we think stole the camera had been pretending to be in charge of the bus too. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr
11) The bathroom had no light. No toilet paper. No water for hand washing. And no door handle. (you had to pull on a plastic bad tied in a loop)
12) And the ultimate bummer? The bus broke down about 2 hours outside of Lima. We got to wait and extra hour and half for our guide to call a van to pick us up. We squished inside buried under a mountain of suitcases and finally made it into Lima around 7. Karma. That’s all I can say is karma for the end of the trip.

Trip to the South

So this trip was 110% better in my opinion J Although at first the Rotary President was being a big pain in the but and wasn’t going to authorize it. I won’t get into those details though because everything worked out and in the end and we pushed through and made it happen. I was working on this end and my friend from France was working on the other end and with about 24 hours to spare we got the whole thing organized. Exchange student power J
Ok, here’s the background. Ilo is a little port town in the South of Peru where my French friend has been living out her exchange. It is in the hot hot desert of the coast but has a continuous breeze running through the town so it isn’t as stifling as Lima. There is also a little green valley in the middle of all the dryness with olive groves and a little river running down the middle. The economy is obvious somewhat fish based but there is also a HUGE copper company that brings in quite a bit of money. It is the biggest copper company in Peru and the second largest in South America. And since it was originally an American company there is a strong US influence and the town is abnormally clean and well ordered. It is a completely different lifestyle and experience to live in the provinces instead of Lima so obviously I wanted to see what it was like. Louison invited all of us to visit for a week and her rotary club is fabulous so they housed and fed us too. I’m telling you, that is the way to travel J It ended up being a group of 7 exchangees that went to visit and I think we all really enjoyed it. I was probably the luckiest because I got to stay with Lou in her house and saw the real version of what her life is like down there. The others were a little bit more controlled by their temporary host parents but Lou took me to meet all of her friends and we had complete freedom. Ilo is quite tiny and you can basically walk everywhere of interest inside the town and if not she has tons of friends to give us a ride. J Honestly, when we walked down the beach we stopped about every 20 feet to say hi to a friend or kiss the cheek of yet another tio rotario. It is really cute because with the small town feel all of the Rotarians are tios or tias (uncles and aunts) and it seems like everyone knows everyone. Plus her host mom is running for Congress and has lived in Ilo her entire life so they are a pretty well known family. That’s another thing, it was fun to get to see a Peruvian political campaign up close. She has a publicity center down town and did a big campaign push on Sunday afternoons on the beach and has signs all over the town. Wowzers. If I were to vote I would check that yellow box in a heartbeat!
So what did we do? First off, we got to tour the copper refinery which I found fascinating. We wore the hard hats and safety goggles and it was legit. I didn’t know ANYTHING about the mining industry before and since it is one of the most important parts of Peru’s economy I felt like I should. This company is quite exemplary and I have to say it’s probably because it was founded by the US. I guess I never really appreciated how American companies follow safety protocol and are organized and efficient and care for the environment but after 7 months of absence I find it very refreshing! They did a powerpoint presentation to explain everything and afterward we got to see it all up-close. We even got to see the machine that turns saltwater into freshwater. AWESOME! The three guys who gave us the tour were Rotarian and afterwards their wife showed us the entire little mini-city for the workers. It has its own school, housing, hospital, recreation center and EVERYTHING just for the employees…
Ummm I have to wrap up this post so I’ll be brief. We also we to a discoteca (fun but the head Rotarian made us come home by 1:00 which is when everyone generally arrives), toured the port in a little boat (saw sea lions and pelicans and giant fishing boats), went to a museum (yet another ancient culture but as always fascinating), went to the beach (several times), went to the golf club ( yay for saunas and swimming pools J ), and toured a navy cruzer. That was probably a once in a life time experience! There were three of them stopped in the port for two days and we were lucky enough to get a tour. All of the guys were in their full white uniforms and I must say that they are much much better looking than the average Peruvian. Plus the fact that there is a height minimum so they were all at least five cm taller than me. yayyyyyyyyyy! And then they invited us to their party that night and it was AWESOME! We scrounged around and found dresses and suits to borrow and went to dance on the Navy Cruzer!!! Way cool J Oh, and on the last day we visited Tacna which is the most southern city in Peru. Now I can officially say I have gone the ENTIRE coast… Every step of the way from Ecuador to Chile!

Chau for now but I promise I’ll post again soon!

Monday, February 7, 2011

... the big change!

Ok, so there is one thing I forgot to tell you guys. A rather important thing. Quite possibly the biggest influence on my life in Peru… and that is my host family. At the very beginning of January I had to experience the tragic, tear-jerking,


Ok, so it really wasn’t THAT bad but I do miss them a lot and go back to visit whenever I get the chance. Yesterday I went and spent the entire day over there and we had a huge water fight with all the little ones. I really clicked with that family... I feel like that is where I belong because they truly are my second family. But I guess I appreciate the time we get to spend together a whole lot more now. And they always make me feel EXTRA special when I go back to visit. My mamacita, Adri, and chiquita (the dog) were waiting for me when I got off the bus and they cooked my favorite food for lunch. :) :) :)

My new host family is great too but I haven’t gotten the chance to get to know them as well. Probably my fault since I have been traveling traveling traveling… Literally 3 of the 4 weeks I have been with them I’ve been out of the house. Anyway, I am in a new neighborhood and a new social class. It’s upper crust with giant houses and fancy alarm systems that don’t allow you to open your window at night. ( Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr ) We have a pool and a waterfall in the house and my dad is the president of the biggest chocolate company in the country. My host family has traveled all over the world and my host siblings have been to florida and the east coast at least 5 times more than I have. (never, jaja) I think you get what I’m saying… it’s a different experience! Unfortunately my three host siblings are all in the US studying or working so I’m the lone ranger for now.

I'm heading out to meet up with a friend but I'll try to post about my second excursion to the north in the next couple days.