Friday, August 20, 2010

Pizza Hut and Charades

Yesterday was Kristen's last day in Peru, as well as one of our "weekends", so she wanted a treat for lunch -- Pizza Hut. When she first said that, I thought she was crazy. Why come all the way to Peru to eat Pizza Hut? But I went along with it.

The Pizza Hut is at Ovalo Santa Anita (Ovalos are massive roundabouts that serve as landmarks and commercial areas), so we took a combi for an hour to get there. When we opened the door, I was so shocked. Instead of seeing a normal Pizza Hut, we had stepped into a classy restaurant. It was really big with lots of tables and comfy booths, all painted and decorated nicely. After we sat down, a waitress even gave us menus.

The others explained that Pizza Hut has a really great special, which is why they love to go. For only 11 soles (about $3.50), we each get a personal pizza, breadsticks, salad, and a drink. I "splurged" to change the americano (cheese and ham) pizza to a supreme for only another $1.50.

One thing I love about Peru is that chain restaurants don't survive here unless they put a Peruvian (aka yummy) twist on their food. For example, instead of a soda, we could get frozen lemonade as our drink. The sauce for our breadsticks was a spicy, creamy tomatoey sauce instead of marinara. Then our salad wasn't the normal, boring pile of lettuce with ranch dressing. In addition to the normal salad stuff like lettuce and tomato, the salad had pico de gallo on top with cheddar cheese, carrots, cabbage, and a light creamy dressing. It sounds really weird, but it wasn't like any other salad I've had. It all worked together somehow. The pizza wasn't really different, just way better than from Pizza Hut at home.

In other news, I just acquired a new roommate. I was in the same room as Tara, the girl from Australia. But Marta, a new volunteer, just flew in on the same day as Kristen is leaving. Since Tara doesn't speak Spanish and Marta doesn't speak English, we figured that it would be really mean, though amusing, to make them room together. So we did a room swap, giving Kristen's room to Tara and letting Marta sleep in my room. I can understand Marta when she speaks, but I am having some trouble speaking back to her, so I think that the next two weeks are going to be a really funny game of charades.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cataratas de Antankallo

I'm the little person standing next to the big sign!

From the left, it's Sarah, me, Kristen, and Tara. In the background to the right is the waterfall.

Every Wednesday, Sarah organizes an excursion for all the volunteers. Unlike last week's failed attempt to learn surfing (the weather in Miraflores was really cold and windy), this week's excursion to Matucana was awesome.

Matucana is a little town about two hours east from Huaycan, up the in the mountains. It was so beautiful -- all of its buildings were painted bright colors with murals, it was surrounded completely by mountains, and there were trees and grass everywhere. Its main attraction is the "Cataratas de Antankallo", a beautiful waterfall in the mountains above it. Our plan for the day was to hike there and have a picnic at the waterfall.

Getting There

We all woke up at 6, left Huaycan at 7, got to Chosica by 8, then caught a bus to Matucana. Because we were up late the night before, all but one person fell asleep on the bus ride up, and we almost missed our stop. While every website had said the bus ride would be 2 or 3 hours, we arrived at Matucana in only 1 hour.

After getting off in the main plaza, we figured we'd be able to easily find the trail to the waterfall. After all, it's the only thing Matucana is known for. But we couldn't find any signs or anything, so we decided to walk to a government building nearby and asked the man where the waterfall was. He was very nice and said that we just had to walk 3 blocks down the main street and take a left. So we took off down the street expecting to see an obvious trail or sign, but hit the end of the road a couple of blocks later. We doubled back and asked a shop owner where the waterfalls were. They said to go two blocks back down the main street, so we walked towards where we had just come from. We walked three blocks without seeing anything, so we turned around, and asked another man where it was. He told us to go two blocks, then take a right.

By this time, the whole town was directing us. (Apparently the town doesn't often see a group of gringas looking for the waterfall.) When we got to a corner, we'd stop and point, and the people nearby would yell at us to keep going. We accidentally turned down a road that led to a bunch of farms and got some very funny looks from all the farmers. But eventually we turned on the correct road...which promptly turned into a fork. All we had to do was stop, and the people nearby started pointing to the left, then had us turn right again. After walking across town about 5 times and running into a big herd of cattle and a few donkeys, we finally reached the base of the trail. At the base of the trail, a dog started walking with us, and he ended up leading us down the trail to the waterfall and back.

The Hike Itself

The first segment of the trail was a series of switchbacks up the side of a mountain. (You can see them in the first photo above.) Between the altitude and lack of sleep, another girl and I were having some trouble with the hike. But we eventually got up, taking lots of photos along the way. After that we had to walk along the side of a mountain. There was a tiny path cut into it, but at the edge of the path was a sheer drop off. As if that wasn't intimidating enough, we came across a massive sign saying "Dangerous Curves". The sign was probably double my height, and perched very precariously on the side of the cliff. (You can see the sign and me standing next to it in the very first photo.)

After finding a trickle of water running across our path ("It's the waterfall!"), we eventually made it to the real waterfall. It was so huge and had so many different levels that I couldn't get it all in a photo. (Because I didn't get many good pictures of it, I borrowed a friend's photo of it to put on here.) After lunch there, we hiked down and caught a bus back. Despite the fact that I only had half a seat to sit on, I fell asleep immediately and didn't wake up until 5 minutes before we had to get off. After a shower and several servings of lomo saltado, I collapsed in a chair with three cups of tea to watch The Count of Monte Cristo. It was incredibly fun, and we hope to be repeating the process in a few months with all of the new volunteers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

View from the Roof

The view from the roof here is great at night. It's only two stories up, but I can still see most of Huaycan. There's even more that's not visible at night, because the houses up on the mountain don't have electricity. Where the lights stop is the bottom of the mountains.


I just did my first load of laundry by hand! There aren't washing machines or dryers here, so everything gets hand washed. I had to soak everything in soapy water, rinse it out, soak it in new soapy water, scrub it, rinse it out, then soak it in clean water. That took a few hours, since the clothes had to soak for at least a half hour each time. Then I hung everything up to dry on the roof, which took about a day and a half. When I took my jeans off the line, I ended up laughing since they were completely stiff. But they're softening up as I wear them and they feel pretty normal now. It was actually a really cool process. Of course, eventually washing everything in a washer and dryer and actually getting it clean will be great, but I'm completely happy to do this for a while. I don't think I've ever felt this accomplished about doing my laundry!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pictures: Zone Z and Lunch

I took a few photos today that I thought I'd upload. The first one is of the classroom in Zone Z where I teach twice a week. The building used to be a really beautiful room that LLI was renting from a church group, but the group decided that they needed the building elsewhere. So they picked it up completely, moved it to another zone, and put a little shack in its place without telling us. Behind the building is a really colorful cemetery sitting on the edge of the mountain.

The next photos are from lunch today. When Sarah came back from the market today, she completely filled up the fruit bowl in the middle of the table. The orange fruit with purple streaks is a pepino (which means "cucumber" everywhere else in Latin America). It's bright yellow on the inside and tastes sort of like a cantaloupe. Also in the basket are grenadillas (on the right), which have a hard orange shell. They look nice on the outside, but they are greyish green and pulpy on the inside. They taste great, but I'm still having trouble getting over how they look. Then the green lumpy fruit (I don't think you can see it) is a chirimoya, which is soft and white on the inside with big black pits. The rest is normal fruit -- bananas, apricots, apples, tangerines, and pears. The apples are really small here, about half the size of my fist.

The second photo is of lunch itself, which was absolutely phenomenal. I had fish and vegetables in a lime sauce, white rice (which is served with every single meal here), and chocolo. The chocolo is a wonderful Peruvian variety of corn that comes with massive kernels.

Living in Huaycan

I knew Peru was going to be a lot different from the US, but I couldn't anticipate how. I tried to read about its customs in advance, but I couldn't fully understand until I arrived here.

Combis and Motos

Transportation is kind of fun here. Besides taxis (which are pretty unsafe, because they aren't registered with any official organization) and personal cars (which don't exist in Huaycan), the main forms of transportation are motos and combis.

A combi is the Peruvian version of a bus, but it can vary in size from a normal sized bus to a tiny passenger van with rows of seats. All of them in Huaycan are small, so if there are no seats and I have to stand in it, I sometimes have to fold myself in half to fit. We mainly take combis around town because they are ridiculously cheap and can be found everywhere. Rides around Huaycan are about 50 centimos, which is about 20 US cents. Then to get anywhere else, I only have to pay about 1 sol and 50 centimos, which is equivalent to 50 US cents. They're so common that if you can't find the right one in one minute, you're not looking hard enough. It's sort of an adventure to ride them, with trying to find and flag down the right one with dozens zooming past.

Motos are the cheap version of taxis. They're like a dirtbike with an attachment on back for people to sit. (Photo is below) Two can fit in it comfortably, and three is a tight squeeze. I think we've put four in before, with people sitting on other people's laps.

Motos are nice for getting to places where combis don't go or getting home at night when it's not smart to walk. But they're a little more expensive, so we don't take them very often. For example, a short ride in Huaycan would be somewhere between 2 and 4 soles. It's not very expensive, but taking them everywhere would add up quickly.


One night the other volunteers and I went to Horacio (the next town over). When we were walking to the center of town, we came across a few girls playing volleyball. As soon as they saw us, they stopped playing and started yelling "Gringas! Gringas!" Then they started waving and jumping up and down saying "Hola! Hola! Hello! Hello!" They did this for about 5 minutes until we got too far away to hear. They had probably never seen a foreigner, so seeing three of us at a time was really exciting.

Huaycan and the areas around it are really poor, so foreigners are rare here. Even we take notice when we see another foreigner. Huaycan is getting used to us because we're from the organization, but places like Horacio never really see anyone. But even in Huaycan, we get stares, especially if we start speaking English. It's a little odd, but it's to be expected. We get called "gringas" all the time. But it's not offensive here at all; it's just their way of saying "foreigner".

One of the volunteers was completely right when she said "It's like we're celebrities." We can do or get absolutely anything we want. When we go out, they'll play American music just for us, they'll always encourage this one girl who loves to dance on the stage, combis always notice us and yell where they're going and motion for us to get on, and kids never stop staring and giggling. Unfortunately, the attention often leads to machismo from guys. Machismo is a very big part of Peruvian culture, so men like to yell things, whistle, blow kisses and all. If a guy talks to us, he'll immediately say that we're the most beautiful women he's seen all day, week, or ever. Or they'll greet us not with "Hola," but instead with "guapa" or "bonita" (beautiful and pretty). And they don't stop saying it. It was really disconcerting at first, but it's becoming easier to ignore, especially since talking is as much as the guys will ever do.

If I get tired of the attention, I can always go into Lima itself. Unlike the rest of Peru, Lima has a lot of European influence, so I can easily pass as Peruvian with my dark hair and eyes. That was a complete shock the first time someone told me that, but I've been into Lima and seen that it's true. Even though my skin is so light, I don't stick out there at all.


Though there's regular dancing here, on Sundays people only do a specific type of dancing. It has a bunch of variations, like Jumpstyle, Techtonik, Shuffle, and Hard Style. I don't even know how to describe it. It's sort of like a mix between sliding across the floor and Irish dancing (Hard Style) while Jumpstyle mixes in these karate kicks. Here's a video that shows Shuffle and Jumpstyle. Right now, the other volunteers and I are trying to learn Jumpstyle and Hard Style, so hopefully I'll be able to do that by the time I get home.


I've always been used to shaking hands and saying "Hola" or "Adios," but that is pretty rare here. Instead, people say "Ciao" and kiss each other once on the left cheek. The first time I met someone, I had no idea about this, so I tried to shake their hand. They gave me a funny look, then grabbed my hand and used it to pull me in for a kiss. It was weird at first, but now I really like it. It seems much friendlier and inviting than a handshake.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

First Post from Peru

The days I've spent here so far have been so eventful and exciting that I feel like I've been in Huaycan far longer than six days.

My first evening here was fairly uneventful. After 12 hours of flying, one hour in the immigration line (my passport now has its first stamp!), and two minutes in customs, I finally found my ride. LLI's house manager Sarah and the two other volunteers (Kristen and Elizabeth) came to pick me up. Elizabeth left on Wednesday, so I only got to spend a couple of days with her. But Kristen will be here for two more weeks, and Sarah is here for the next year. And then Tara, who's from Australia, came on Friday and will be here a few months. They're really nice, awesome people and have been helping me learn everything, so it's great to hang out with them.

The next morning, I had orientation with Lara, the co-founder of LLI. I got my schedule and learned that I'll be teaching Friday through Tuesday. Since LLI teaches lots of classes on Saturdays and Sundays, Wednesday and Thursday is the volunteers' "weekend." So I have several classes each day, and each is about an hour and a half. Besides that, I will be spending a decent amount of time traveling to and from class and preparing all my lesson plans. To clarify - Huaycan is divided into a couple dozen zones. I'm living in Zone D and will teach a lot of classes in the basement of the house where I'm staying. But I also teach in Zones I and Z. Each zone is fairly small, so getting to another zone is not a big deal, but it can take up to a half hour each way between combis (more on that later) and walking. I'm scheduled to teach a lot of English classes, from intermediate Spanish for teens to beginning English for 6-9 year olds. Then I also get to teach weekly classes on chess and math and help with sports, dance, and art.

Huaycan is a very easy place to like, and I'm finding that I like it more each day that I'm here. While Lima is loud and crazy, Huaycan is a calm, friendly place. It's not really a nice place in terms of appearance. But when I go to my classes that are partway up the mountains (or foothills as they call it) and look down on Huaycan, it's easy to see beauty in it. When I go to Zone I tomorrow, I'll take a picture.

Classes so far have been great. The 6-9 year olds are absolutely crazy and sometimes difficult to control, but they're so adorable that it is completely worth it. I sat in on one of my friend's classes on Thursday, and a student's little sister came. She was 4 and mumbled everything she said, but she was so excited to talk that we sat together and talked for an hour and a half. The little kids are also really loving. A half hour after we meet, they usually want to hold my hand as we walk, won't play games without me, and love to talk with me.

Then other days I have 10-13 year olds, who are absolutely great and work really hard. Then one of my favorite classes is the conversation club for teens and adults who want to come in and practice their English. It's a really casual class where we just talk about anything. Last night we played 2 Truths and a Lie to practice telling stories, then worked on vocabulary with another game. Everyone was laughing, and by the end I was treated more like a friend than a teacher.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Here We Go...

I'm only 9 hours away from boarding my plane to Lima now. Over the last few days, I've been running around like a maniac, trying to think of everything I'll need for the next four months and making sure that it all ended up in my bag.

For the two weeks, every time I started thinking about the magnitude of this trip and getting nervous, I made a list to rationalize it. Only problem was that I then ended up with pages and pages of lists and nothing packed.

So I spent the last week reading about everything I'll need, and then buying, packing, reconsidering, unpacking, and ultimately repacking everything. Times three. Thanks to Costco, I'm bringing a wonderful 28 inch duffel bag with me.

As someone prone to overpacking, I swore that I won't overpack for this trip, especially since the place I'm staying has extremely limited storage. I'm bringing a grand total of 14 shirts: 2 sweaters, 5 long sleeves, 5 short sleeves, and 2 tank tops. Combine that with a couple of jackets, jeans, a pair of sweats, a couple of skirts, and a few t-shirts, and you have a complete list of my wardrobe. I'm going to become best friends with these clothes, since I only have just over 2 weeks of clothes for 4 months. The rest of the bag is toiletries, socks, some electronics (computer, converter, camera, and all the cords that go along with them, a waterbottle, and a couple pairs of shoes.

The first time I packed my bag, I felt so proud of myself since it was all so organized and fit well. Then I tried to pick it up... The bag probably weighed 60 pounds. I started worrying at this point, since I had no idea how the bag became that heavy and how I could fix it. Eventually I realized that my problem was not clothes or anything -- it was my toiletries. Getting them there will be difficult, so I wanted to bring enough of everything for four months. My shampoo alone was a couple of pounds. So I changed to smaller versions of shampoo, conditioner, and more, took out a few of my clothes, and weighed my bag again. Thankfully, it's only about 40 pounds now. I still worry about whether I overpacked, but I don't think I could have taken much less for 4 months.

Besides packing drama, I had to repeatedly make sure I had all of my necessary documents -- my passport, medical card, vaccination records, traveler's checks, US dollars and Peruvian soles, a Spanish dictionary and grammar book, along with several copies of each. Getting Peruvian money on short notice was difficult, since not many places keep in on hand, but I found a money exchange place at the airport that could get it to me in one day. My traveler's checks would have been fairly uneventful, except for part of my conversation with the travel agent.

Me: Do you happen to have any books about Peru?
Agent: I don't think we do, but you can probably find information about it in a book about Europe.
Me: ....
Agent: Do you want me to get the book for you?
Me: Peru's in South America.
Agent: Oh yeah ... Oops.

I'm not sure whether that's sad or extremely hilarious. I'm going with the latter.

So now I'm sitting here at 11 pm and I can't fall asleep. I keep alternating between being nervous and excited, and that or the malaria medication has been tying my stomach in knots.

But no matter how nervous I get, I know in the back of my mind that I'm going to have an unforgettable experience. While I'm not anxious to leave my home and family, I have no doubt that I'll have a wonderful time once I get there. I know I'll miss everyone a lot, so please email me, comment on this blog, or talk with me on Skype like crazy. I won't be accessible by phone, so don't call or text. But any other mode of communication will be wonderful. I can't wait to talk to everyone and hear what's going on back in the US.

My next post will be from Peru!