Friday, October 22, 2010

Huacachina (Updated)

This weekend we went to Huacachina, an oasis in southwestern Peru known for its amazing sand dunes.To get there, we caught a bus from Lima at 2:30 am and arrived in Ica (a big city close to Huacachina) at about 7:30 am. After a 10 minute taxi ride, we were in Huacachina.

View from next to the lake

View from on top one of the sand dunes

The town was absolutely gorgeous. The center of the town is a natural lake, surrounded on all sides by massive sand dunes.

When we got there around 8 am, the town was absolutely silent. We spent a while walking around and checking out different places before we were able to get some breakfast (fresh maracuya juice and good coffee included!) and get a room for the night.

After asking around a little, we found a really cute place to buy our tours. The hostel was really laid back and welcoming with a huge courtyard filled with couches, chairs, and hammocks. We got dune buggy/sandboarding and vineyard tours there for only 50 soles, which was about 30 soles cheaper than everywhere else. And they even offered to let us take out the sandboards in advance to practice, since the tour wasn't until 4 pm.

So at about 11 am, we were out sandboarding! In the tours, a buggy takes you up the dunes each time. But since we were just practicing, we ended up climbing one of the dunes on the edge of town. Even though the dune wasn't very tall, the hike was difficult since the sand just kept sliding out from under my feet. At times, I felt like I was taking a bunch of steps but wasn't actually getting anywhere. But it was completely worth it. The sandboarding was so much fun! Instead of going down on my stomach, I decided to go straight to standing up. It was difficult and I ended up wiping out spectacularly a few times (one time, I did a head-over-heels somersault and smacked my head with my board). But when I got going, it was really fun. Turning is pretty impossible, so I just aimed the board straight down the hill and braked if I needed to. By the end, I was completely covered in sand.

Our hostel

Another photo of the hostel

After that, we spent a while relaxing by the pool at our hostel. Everything was so quiet and we couldn't see any other buildings around us, so it felt like we were the only people in Huacachina. It was so peaceful.

Then at 4 pm, we left for our dune buggy/sandboarding tour.

Out in the dunes

Getting ready to sandboard

Me sandboarding!

Me with the two other volunteers after sunset

It was so much fun! We spent a lot of time at first driving really quickly through the dunes, which was like a natural roller coaster. Then we spent a while doing sandboarding. On one of the runs, I went straight down without falling or anything! One of the people in our group was a snowboarder, so we went to some huge dunes after that. He went down standing up, but we all went down on our stomachs. The dunes were at about a 75 degree angle, but they looked and felt like they were vertical. For one of them, we couldn't even see the hill because it dropped off so quickly from the edge.

Sunset over the dunes. Look at the buggy on the side of the hill for scale.

Another shot of the sunset, about 30 seconds before the sun disappeared

Moonrise on the other side of the dunes

Overlooking Huacachina after sunset

After that at about 6 pm, we watched the sun set over the desert. It was so beautiful to see since it made all of the sand glow orange. And then on the other side of the desert, the almost-full moon was rising. It was really one of the most beautiful things I've seen so far in Peru.

After another half hour of driving around, sandboarding in the dark, and watching Huacachina light up from on top the dunes, we went back into town.

Then the next morning, I got up early and borrowed a sandboard again. My muscles were sore from the day before, so climbing up the hill again was pretty painful. But again, it was worth it. I had a few really good runs and managed not to hit myself in the head with my board again (a personal victory!).

Then after a shower and a leisurely breakfast at the hostel, we went on a vineyard tour. Ica is the wine (and pisco, to some extent) region of Peru and is the home of some of Peru's most famous vineyards.

View from the belltower at Tacama, an industrial vineyard

Another view of Tacama

Artisanal vineyard

For the tour, we visited two vineyards - one industrial and one artisanal. The industrial one (Tacama) was first, and it's considered some of the best wine in Peru. The vineyards were beautiful. It used to be a monastery, so the grounds were beautiful. And at one point in the tour, we went up into the bell tower and could see the whole vineyard. The mountains in the background are actually the Andes. They look really close, but it's just an illusion because they're so huge. After the tour was tasting the wine. We got to try 5 different types, and they were all really wonderful.

After that, we visited an artisanal vineyard, which means that they do everything by hand the old way. A lot of the presses and things they use are 150 years old. They focus on pisco (a Peruvian liquor) and have probably a dozen varieties, but they also make wines. The grounds again were beautiful though not as large. And needless to say, the pisco and wine were great.

And that was about it for our trip. It was really a great time. I definitely want to go back in the future and do more sandboarding and spend more time exploring the desert, but I still feel very satisfied with what we did.

In other news, this entire week for my kids is midterms. The down side - I had to spend my entire Monday writing all of my exams. I was up until about 2 am that night. The up side - after the exams, we have a little party in each class (to encourage the kids to come to class). So I got to buy all of the candy and soda this morning, and I'm quite excited to try these new Peruvian cookies and play Uno with my kids.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Chess Update!

Take a look at the main page of Light and Leadership's website. The main photo there is from the final round of the chess tournament! Both students were from my class in Zone Z 231. The boy on the left (Jhordy) ended up winning, but Hereka (on the right) put up a really good fight. Congrats to them both!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Chess tournament and other fun updates

First, I just have to share the coolest thing that I've seen here.

RAINBOW AROUND THE SUN! It stayed around all morning and was so amazing. And it wasn't raining at the time (because it never rains in Huaycan), so I still have no idea how this happened. We had to put sunglasses over the camera to get this photo. It looked way better in person though. You could see almost all of the individual color stripes.

Otherwise, the other awesome thing going on right now is...

Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian author and politician, won the Nobel Prize for Literature! Every school and most of the little stores or bodegas all have signs congratulating him, and all of Peru is pretty happy. I read one of his books for IB, and I'm currently reading what is considered to be his literary masterpiece. It's called The War at the End of the World. And after I bought it in English, I actually found it in Spanish for $4, so I bought that copy too. I'm really excited about this, because now I can still read the beautiful Spanish text, but use the English text to make sure I know what's going on.

In other news, the first chess tournament was yesterday! 10 students from my Zone Z 231 and D classes participated, and they were absolutely amazing. When it first started, the room fell completely silent, so even walking seemed really loud. They were so focused that when we gave each person cookies and soda, they didn't even touch them until they had finished their game. I had correctly predicted who the top two people and the winner would be, but some of the wins in the middle were surprising to me. A couple of kids who I expected would lose in the first round did amazing and got to the second-to-last round. In the end, two of my students from Zone Z 231 were in the final round - Jhordy and Hereka - and Jhordy won with a great game. The two top students won chess boards and the others got certificates of participation. It was such a success, and I'm hoping to do one more tournament in December before I leave.

One more photo for your viewing pleasure before I start working on my lesson plan for class today.

This was taken up in Zone I with one of the younger students and her dog. The dog looks larger here than it really is because it's so fluffy, and it just came and curled up with me. Luckily one of the other volunteers thought to take a photo.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

New Classroom and House

This post is definitely a few weeks too late, but we moved to a new house. And since our classrooms were in the basement of our new class, that means that we found new classrooms too.

I absolutely love our new place. The house is bright yellow with a black spiral staircase, and the classroom is painted white and purple with red brick inside. The colors are all so great and the neighborhood is better. Our house is now closer to Quince and we don't have to walk past a stoop of drunk guys every time we leave home. The kitchen and bathroom are also HUGE.

Since I seem to be on a streak of posting lots of photos here recently, I included some photos below.

New house!

New classroom!

One wall of the classroom with letters decorated by the students during art class

Hallway in the classroom leading to another classroom, the future computer room, and the "library" (storage room for school and art supplies)

More student art decorating the classroom

Our street

My bed!

Huge kitchen

Patio in the house

All of the volunteers from last week, plus Dina (who cooks for us) and Gonzalo (daytime security guard)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lomas de Lucumo

The name of our amazing hike last Wednesday. Las Lomas de Lucumo is a microclimate of lush, green mountains sourrounded by desert. It's near the coast south of Lima, about 2 hours by combi from our house.

The town where we started the hike was called Quebrada Verde. It's right next to Pachacamac, which is known for having great ruins and chicharrones (more on that later).

We started our hike at about 9:30. The base of the mountains looked like the desert around it, but it changed completely about halfway up the mountain. Eventually the ground became completely covered with plants and flowers while chirping birds flew overhead. I haven't heard birds (except for pigeons) in two months, so it was wonderful. And we also saw three or four eagles flying overhead, which was beautiful.

Besides its microclimate, this hike was known for its massive vertical rock formations. About two-thirds of this particular rock formation isn't in the photo.

About halfway up the mountain. The mountains ran in a circle, and we first hiked straight up the center of it.

View from an overlook about two-thirds of the way up. The rock that the person in the photo was standing on was hanging out over the hill. This was where we stopped just before we climbed up a vertical wall of boulders.

From the top of the mountain range. We got up to the highest peak and stopped for lunch (at 10 am), then traversed the mountain ridge. In total, we walked across about 7 peaks.

Town on the other side of the mountain from Quebrada Verde.

On the way to the last peak and the end of the ridge. From there, it felt like we were at the edge of the world.

Me overlooking the valley below from the end of the ridge

When we got down from the mountain, the first little farm we came across had a peacock in the yard surrounding it. Seriously. And it spent about 5 minutes showing off its tail feathers, which is very rare to see. It was amazing.

Chicharrones - our reward for the hike. We walked for a couple of hours into and through Pachacamac to find these. Though chicharrones exist elsewhere, Pachacamac is well known for theirs. It's baked and fried pork, sweet potatoes, onions, and cancha.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Weekend in Lima

A view of the ocean from Miraflores. The road running along the coast is the Pan-American highway. (You can click on the photo to see it bigger.)

Watching the sun set over La Rosa Nautica, one of the best restaurants in Lima.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, we took a vacation to Lima. Normally when we visit, we don't get to spend much time there because of the 3 hour combi ride each way. So this time, we decided to stay overnight in a hostel.

We left after lunch on Wednesday and got to Miraflores (a really nice part of Lima where some friends live) by about 3:30. After finding a hostel (only 20 soles per person) and dropping off our stuff, we walked over to the ocean. It was one of the volunteer's first time seeing the Pacific Ocean! We then found a really beautiful restaurant overlooking the water, got seats on the patio outside, and watched the sun set over the ocean. After that we went for Greek food and hung out with friends from Miraflores.

The next day was pretty relaxed. In the morning, we got Starbucks, since coffee shops don't exist in Huaycan, and Indian food. Then, around 3, most of the other volunteers decided to head back to Huaycan, while another person and I stayed in Miraflores. She had lived in Miraflores before, so she caught up with old friends, while I went on a search for English books. I've been out of reading material for a while, so I was really excited to find two really good books, both by Latin American authors.

I bought Blindness by Jose Saramago (a Portuguese author who won the Nobel Prize in Literature), and The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa (a famous Peruvian author and now politician). I'm now reading Blindness, which is really good so far. But I want to read it in Spanish in the future, because I can tell that it would be absolutely beautiful. And I can't wait to start on The War of the End of the World because I've already read and loved one of Vargas Llosa's books, and this is known as his literary masterpiece.

And that was about it. After that, I just met with the other volunteer, hung out with her friends for a while, then headed back with her. The weekend might sound pretty boring, but it was really a welcome change. After staying in Huaycan for a while - where there aren't bookstores, coffee shops, nice restaurants, or any food other than Peruvian food or chifa - it felt really nice to take a "vacation" and be able to relax, watch the sunset, and do things we normally can't.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Election Day

This Sunday, Peruvians voted for the mayors of their districts and regions. Since it's mandatory to vote in Peru, today was absolutely crazy. It seems like all of Huaycan (and Lima!) was out on the streets. The volunteers who commute from Lima to Huaycan every Sunday couldn't get here today because the traffic was at a standstill. And the main intersection of Huaycan was completely clogged up. There were so many cars in it that none of them could move. When I had to cross the street there, I couldn't even go between some cars because they were stopped so close together. Getting to classes today was quite interesting. We left 45 minutes to an hour early for each class. And then we quickly realized that finding combis was impossible and just used motos all day.

Mandatory voting isn't the only way the government reacts to election day. There's also a law in Peru called La Ley Seca, or the Dry Law. It says that alcohol is illegal in Peru 48 hours before the election and 24 hours after. In other words, no alcohol can be served on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and maybe even Monday. And all discotecas and clubs are closed those days too. The objective is for people to be sober and ready to vote on Sunday. However, I think it's a fairly ridiculous law, since people respond to it by stocking up on alcohol on Thursday and partying throughout the weekend. In fact, it seems like people almost drink more than they normally would just because they're not allowed.