Thursday, March 31, 2011

I finally made it...

The most famous part of Peru...
One of the seven wonders of the world...
An incredible mix of culture, history and construction...
The capital of the Incan empire...

What could I be referring to? None other than MACHU PICCHU!!! And after 8 months of hearing the unending praise of this marvelous city, I can finally say I´ve been there. Haleluja! This month truly has been marvelous though, and not only because I made it to Machu Picchu. I turned 19, visited two of the most famous cities in the entire country, started at my university, and above all got to spend two weeks with my family. My REAL, flesh and blood family!!! =) They flew all the way down here and spent 12 days seeing the sights with tour guide Chelan. My mom and I spent a good number of hours sending emails and skyping to figure out the itinerary, hotels, buses, flights etc but it the end we got everything pretty well ironed out. It was a new experience to plan a trip for the family and although it was a bit exhausting it was WELL WORTH the time. Of course I made my mistakes and learned my lessons but for the most part everything ran smoothly. I think my biggest mistake was choosing restaurants that just didn’t seem to have their ovens turned on. hahahahahaha

So, I guess I’ll start from the beginning. My host family took me to the airport to pick up the family around 11 on Sunday and I can tell you that I was a ball of emotions. Excited... nervous... restless... and every other state inbetween. First we left the house late because my host dad couldn’t find the keys, and then you add in the horrid Lima traffic and it was not a good situation- luckily we still made it about 5 minutes before they came out of the gate. ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I was standing there jumping up and down with my bright orange welcome sign and Skye and I did the awesome flying, running embrace thing- Although a slightly comical version because she had a giant hiking backpack and I had an awkward welcome sign. haha But it really felt amazing to hug those four crazy Paulys who I hadn’t seen in 8 months! Jace finally sprouted up and was a whole lot taller (still hasn’t passed me yet) but other than that they were all exactly how I remembered. :)

I won’t get into all of our adventures but I basically showed them the most important places in Lima, my life as a Peruvian, and my wonderful host families. Skye, Jace and I took a few rides on the local buses and I dragged the whole family out to run a few of my favorite routes. Well, everyone except Jace who enjoyed the soft pillows and a few hours of extra snooze time. haha Skye and I had THE biggest birthday celebration of our lives with no less than 5 birthday cakes and three nights of parties. The day before my birthday we had a party in my current host house with lots of exchange students and friends from school. They have a perfect back yard and my host mom went all out with plastic tables, chairs, loud music and TONS of food. We had chocolate fondue, little chicken sandwiches, chips and salsa, vegis, fruit, cheese and crackers, and the two delicacies- waffles and PB&J sandwiches (most of my friends had never tried either one…) awhhhhh I felt so special :) And it was fun to introduce Skye to my world over here too. The second night (my actual birthday) we visited my other host house and had a bit of a family reunion with them. I have become so attached it feels like we have known each other forever so it was great to be able to introduce my two families. (mom, this is mom other mom. haha) They cooked my favorite dish and and we sang happy birthday and basically just enjoyed general bonding time. Yayzers.

So that brings us to Cuzco. INCREDIBLE! Probably the most enchanting city I have been to in my life. Aside from the gorgeous artisania and fascinating people, the streets just call my name. There is one neighborhood called San Blas that I could wander for weeks without ever getting bored. It is all cobble stone with little winding streets and stone steps. It is full of old houses, little shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. It is also on the edge of town so as you go father and father back you gain altitude and end up with a breathtaking view of the city and surrounding mountains. Anyway, we met up with Vicki and Heather (fellow Wenatchee-ites volunteering in Cusco) and they gave us a lovely first hand tour. We went to a delicious restaurant by the number one chef in Peru (Gaston Acurio) and then in the evening Heather and Vicki took us for a little more birthday celebration. In honor of Saint Patricks day we went to an Irish Pub (full of Europians and Americans since that particular holiday doesn't seem to exist in Peru) and then to a discoteca. Around four in the morning we shared our fifth an final birthday cake :)

The next day we did the rounds of all of the not-so-famous but equally impresive ruins in the Sacred Valley. In Sacsaywaman (the first ruin right outside Cusco) we found ourselves a guide who ended up accompanying us the entire way to Ollantaytambo (the last city where the train embarks to Machu Picchu). By the end of the day we had made great friends with not only the guide Agusto but the taxi driver joined us for dinner. I don't think I can possible explain the intricate stonework, ingenious engineering and pure aww factor of the Incan ruins we saw that day, but I can say that everyone should see them at some point in their life. This ancient culture knew exactly how to construct their houses, agricultural terraces, economical centers and religious temples to withstand the wear of time. They were antisismic, anti erosion, antiwind, flood proof designs with irigation and water chanels built right into the walls. Plus everything was aligned with the sun, stars, and certain imaginary lines they had made going out from the center of the ancient culture- Machu Picchu. Wow, talk about forward thinkers and an advanced society!

We spent that night in Ollantaytambo and the next day exploring more ancient ruins, making our way to Aguas Calientes and preparing for the ultimate marvel, Machu Picchu itself. Ollantaytambo is a gorgeous little town in the center of a valley surprisingly similar to Wenatchee and Leavenworth. Skye and I went running (I am proud to say I have run in every single city I have visited in Peru) it the morning and felt perfecttly at home tucked between the mountains with a river running along one side. It is obviously somewhat touristic because it houses the train to Machu Picchu but impressively enough it has retained a lot of the traditional culture and small town feel. Anyway, the day itself doesn't need much describing but train is worth a callout... it is an ancient clackity-clacking old thing but fits the ambiance perfectly. We walked about half a mile along a cobbled street to get to the station and before getting on I bought corn on the cob with fresh cheese from a little old lady in her brightly colored skirts and leather hat. We sat in seats facing each other with a table in the middle but that hardly mattered because our eyes were glued to the window the entire time. With huge windows on either side and sky-lights above it is the perfect setup and even better is the speed of the train. It chugs along swaying from side to side at somewhere around 15 or 20 miles an hour. Just about equal to cruising speed on a fast road bike... We followed the river Urubamba all the way to Aguas Calientes and admired the power of its rapids for about two hours straight. March is the end of the rainy season in Cusco so the waters are swollen to the brim and it is ready to swallow any person or thing who dares to get in its way. Anyway, we enjoyed it :)

So… Machu Picchu. After getting the tickets bought, alarms set, and everything laid out the night before Jace managed to chance our plans in an instant. And that instant happened to be at 4:41 am. To make a long story short and save the gory details, we will just say that he had a very unhappy stomach and was absolutely incapable to hit the trail. So Skye, my dad and I headed up the Incan steps on our own and my mom stayed on bed duty for a few extra hours. We made our way up up up for about an hour through the light rain and eventually reached the goal around 7. From the check-in point we raced to the far outpost and managed to get our name on the list to climb Wayna Picchu. They only allow 450 people to head up each day and we were lucky enough to get the last couple slots for the 10 am group. Yayyyyyyyyyyy Since it was still early we explored the ruins and had a little picnic breakfast with some Argentinian friends while we waited. And thank goodness we waited! As we were climbing Wayna Picchu (the mountain just behind Machu Picchu) the sun broke through and we were rewarded with gorgeous views on the ancient city and a full rainbow to boot! Wow. The trail up to the top is a bit precarious with little Incan steps and drop off cliffs but in the end the view is entirely worth it. On the way down we got the chance to chat a lot with another new Argentinian friend since it is a single set of stairs and impossible to pass double wide. Back at the ruins, I went running off in search of my mom (she had taken the bus up a little later in the morning) and Skye and my dad found themselves a guide to take us on the official tour. It was somewhat miraculous that I found her in the midst of so many people and so much space (we had no meeting plan or means of communication) but with in 20 0r 25 minutes we were all united and ready to go. I’m not going to recount the rest of the tour or day but Skye and I spent a full 12 hours walking and exploring that day. Wow! Lets just say that the hot springs the next morning felt AMAZING!!! =)

The second city that we visited is called Arrequipa. It is probably the most europian city in Peru and has a completely different feel from Cusco. It was also fascinating to explore but for lack of time I am not going to go into detail. Just believe me that it is a great city and I enjoyed myself very much. We took an overnight but from Cusco to Arrequipa (first one ever for the rest of the family) and checked into our hotel the next morning. It was a huge old mansion renovated as a hotel and probably one of the most interesting places I have ever spent the night. The rooms had double high ceilings with equally large windows and doors. They were decorated with furnishings at least 100 years old each one opened into a small courtyard connected to the others through a series of passages and stone steps. Definitely recommend it! The day after we arrived Skye and I split off on our own little adventure and went on a guided tour of the Colca Canyon. It is supposedly even deeper than the Grand Canyon, has stunning views, and is supposedly home to some of the worlds only Condors. These are giant birds with 9 ft wing spans who are super impressive to see and NEVER SHOWED THEMSELVES. Yup, we were in that canyon for two days straight and I did not see one condor. UNFAIR!. Ok, really it wasn’t that big of a deal. We had a great group of hikers and I spent the majority of my time talking with them and admiring the surrounding mountains. There was a young couple from france, a girl who just finished her two years of service in Israel, a super cool guy from England with an AWESOME ACCENT, a fascinating couple from Europe (the wife from Russia, the husband from Germany and they had spent 5 years traveling the world working as doctors on cruise ships and then getting off in random places) and of course our guide from Peru.

And yeah, I’m kinda tired of writing so I’m going to leave it at that… I spent 12 fabulous days with my family and now I’m back in Lima. I miss them but I’m still perfectly happy living my life over here. Basically it was fun to have a little piece of Wenatchee in Peru but it’s good to be back to a slightly more normal schedule. Life is good.

Lets see, a few other interesting random things that have happened in the past month…

* I went to my first Peruvian wedding! I didn’t even know the bride or groom but I still had a blast and it was fun to see the marriage process in another culture. I went with my friend Valeria and her parents who just happen to be some of the greatest people in the world… they always invite me to do things with them and have become my second adoptive family down here. They take me to the beach or to go camping or go to family functions and I know practically all of the cousins and aunts and uncles. But that is beside the point. What I wanted to explain is how Peruvian weddings work. They are (like all social functions) a late night party full of drinking, dancing and eating combined with a little bit of catholic religion. This was actually a very small scale wedding with only about 130 people at the party and even fewer during the church service. We went early because Valeria’s dad was the padrino of the bride but the majority of people didn’t even arrive until 11. The dinner was served around 12, they did all of the boquet throwing, guarder removing and formal waltzing and around 1 we started to dance. :) One interesting thing is that the bride changed from her white fluffy dress to a hot pink one for the party. haha Anyway, we had the “hora loca” and danced like crazy people until 4 in the morning… fun stuff!

* Diego Torres concert!!! Most of you have probably never heard of him but I am a big fan! He sings two of my favorite songs that I learned in junior year Spanish class and is relatively well known in the latin world. The only thing is that he is 40 and isn’t really famous with the younger generation. Doesn’t matter, my exchange friend Savannah and I bought our cheap tickets and went very happily to stand in the crown and sing along with our latin hero. It was an outdoor concert on a gorgeous summer night and you really can’t beat the magic of the entire crown singing “Color Esperanza” at the top of their lungs and dancing together :)

* Gamarra. Picture a giant market full of little stores, people, and clothing. It is infamous in Lima if you want to buy cheap clothing but it also has the reputation of being packed full of people and somewhat dangerous. Obviously with lots of people come lots of thieves and pickpockets. Anyway, I went there for the first time a couple weeks ago and it was not lacking in clothes or people. On the contrary, it was the most shirts, shorts, pants, dresses, and other fabricated items I have seen in my entire life! Cotton of every color, shape and size flashed before my eyes and the mazes of little stalls exploding from all sides literally made me dizzy. It was rather overwhelming and I felt like the shops and passageways packed with people could easily swallow me in an instant. I know there are some women who are time weathered masters of Gamarra and know exactly where to find the best prices and cutest cloths but I felt like it was impossible to ever find your way out! Still, I bought a few things and enjoyed the experience very much :)

* I started my first week of university classes in Peru. It is rather comical and a slight disappointment how little we do but I still enjoy it immensely. I have four hours of academic classes per week and four hours of dancing. :) The academic class is called Realidad Nacional y Globalicacion and the dance classes are Salsa and Marinera ( a traditional dance from the north). It is a small university but I like it a lot… there are two cafeterias stocked full of good snacks, a library on the 8th floor of one building, lots of green grass and trees, free water ( a miracle in Peru), plenty of stairs and most importantly lots of fun looking people to get to know. I’m EXCITED! :)