Monday, June 15, 2009

Signing Off...

Since my last post, Dad and I hung out (yet again) in Arequipa and then spent a weekend in the frigid Chivay in Colca Canyon. This week can be simply summed up as "The week of Great Food and Long Hikes". The Arequipan province is known throughout Peru for its cuisine and it did not let us down. Dad and I also did several hikes through rivers and trails leading us to waterfalls, remote villages, and excellent views.

After several hours of flight delays (30 minutes in Arequipa, 4 hours in Lima, and 3 hours in Newark), we finally landed in Charlotte, NC on June 10th at about 5:00pm. I am still absolutely flustered by the stark differences between that South American country and this one. Private cars, huge interstates, chain restaurants - and the list of differences goes on and on and on.

After about nearly a week of being in the States again, I'm finally getting accustomed to life again (finding a job, registering for classes for the Fall semester, seeing family). Though, some things have still not changed: I'm still talking to myself in Spanish and driving my car way too fast.

Peru is a remarkable country. Often, as I listen to Cumbia (the Peruvian/Colombian music), I find myself reminiscing. I will take my memories of that country, the people, the music, the food, and the culture to me to UNC and wherever else life takes me. The invaluable lessons I learned and relationships I formed will never leave me.

The question I'm asked most often now is: "Will you go back to Peru?". Without hesitation nor doubt, my answer is simply: "Yes".

Thank you for sticking with me and this blog throughout my travels. For the last time, like they say in Peru: Ciao Amigo!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

La Tierra de Las Inkas... (Travel Diaries 3)

Dad arrived last Friday and we rode an overnight bus to Cusco, Peru (the old capital city of the Inca civilization). This week has been full of museums (Museum of Popular Art, Museum of PreColombian Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Regional History, Inca Museum), churches (The Santo Domingo Convent), and ancient Inca ruins (Sacsaywaman, Q'enqo, Ollantaytambo, Tambomachay, Puca Pucara, Pisac, and Moray). And, of course, we visited the new wonder of the world, Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was definitely the highlight of the trip.

We had to leave Cusco at 3:00am in the morning to catch a taxi to the city of Ollanta. From Ollanta we hopped on a train at 5:00am that would arrive in Machu Picchu at 7am. In Aguas Calientes (the city where buses depart to Machu Picchu) we hopped on a bus that winded up a very narrow road until we reached the ruins. Upon arriving in Machu Picchu ("Old Mountain" in Quechua) we nearly ran to the gate where the hikes to the big mountain Waynapicchu ("Young Mountain") start, knowing that they only let 400 tourists hike up each day. The hike up was a strenuous 1 hour climb. However, the peak was totally worth it. From there we hiked another hour to a very remote ruin. Returning to Machu Picchu took us another 2 hours (4 hours of hiking). In the actual site, we had an amazing private tour with a guide who knew nearly every corner of Machu Picchu. Leaving Machu Picchu that day, I could not help but feel sad - it was definitely the most peaceful and remarkable place I have ever seen/visited in my life.

We leave this amazingly interesting and historic city tomorrow, headed to Arequipa (once more). I am going to leave you two slide shows:
1. The City of Cusco and Surrounding Ruins
2. The Ancient Inca City of Machu Picchu


Sunday, May 24, 2009

La Vida Loca... (Travel Diaries 2)

Photo slide show from Ica/Huacachina, Chincha, and - new - Lima. In Lima, I met a group of 5 Peruvian guys, about my age, and they toured me all over in Lima and then every night we went out to clubs. It was a great way to see Lima!

We're in Cusco now... Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mala Suerte... (Travel Diaries - Part I)

Left Arequipa Friday night on the bus company renowned for crashes. I ate a hearty meal of chicken and jello and slowly dozed off to the motors of a diesel engine.

I awoke to a loudspeaker telling me to get off the bus very quickly because we had arrived in Ica and they had to keep going to Lima. So I got off, and remembering that I was headed to the district ´Huacachina´, I called a taxi.

I spent two days in Huacachina and it was beautiful. Huacachina is a paradise in the middle of the desert. In the middle of Huacachina sits a beautiful lake filled with paddle boats during the day. Around the lake is a boardwalk with seafood restaurants and blasting tropical music. And around the entire village, there are huge mountains of golden sand (like you might see in North Africa). So, for two days, I stayed either in a shaded hammock reading, or laying out by the pool, or talking to the hostal parrots, or stuffing my face with fish. Oh yeah, I also Sandboarded (snowboarding on a sand dune) and went on several tours of wineries. Quite different than the life I was leading in Arequipa.

Then it was off to Chincha (the supposed Afro-Peruvian part of Peru). However, when I arrived, there was NOTHING Afro-Peruvian about it. Just stinky and loud. So I decided to check in to a hostel and go to the countryside. My Peru guide book told me that in the countryside, there would be an old slave plantation where you could eat yummy meals, go on horseback tours of the house and the cotton fields, and learn to dance African style. The ride out there was beautiful- fields and fields of cotton and avocado. So I get to the Hacienda (plantation) and talk to the guy at the gate. First he laughs and then asks me how far I came - I say Arequipa. He laughs some more. Then, he tells me that for two years (since the big earthquake) the Hacienda has been closed for restoration. He says ´Bad luck, there´s not much else to do in Chincha´.

I returned to my hostel, confused. What in the world just happened? And then, I look at my guidebook, turn to the first page, and see that it was published in 2004.

I slept it off, and woke up this morning refreshed, ready to head to Lima: the monster city of Peru. Dad arrives on Friday. The next four days will be packed with my trying to get to know Lima... Stay tuned.

Friday, May 15, 2009

La Ultima Semana

I don't know how to do this. This has been one of the hardest weeks of my week.

Every day this week was another goodbye. Tuesday - 3rd and 4th graders. Wednesday - 1st and 2nd graders. Thursday - 5th and 6th graders and all the kids in San Isidro.

On Sunday, as a final outing with the older kids. I took about 7 older kids to a village a little further out from San Isidro - Quequena. It was an amazing day full of rock hopping in the beautiful river, eating ice cream, and laughing with the kids.

On Thursday, after my last day teaching English at Corazon de Jesus, I went to my last day of Tareas (Homework Project). What was perfect about that afternoon was how normal it was - so simple, so beautiful. I helped Elmer with English homework (like always). Then I helped Fernando with a drawing of the digestive system. After, I played UNO with about 4 kids until we served the big pot of soup to the kids. The whole time there were sporadic exclamations of "No se vaya!" (Don't leave), but mostly, everything was like always - which was so, very perfect.

Then it got a little more difficult. One of the older girls, Maria, presented a drawing that nearly 15 kids had contributed to. It was beautiful. Then she started crying and gave me a big hug. In that moment, nearly all the children ran up and hugged me at once with a chorus of "Por que se va?" (Why do you have to leave?) or "Se voy a extranar" (I will miss you). Two of the boys that I've been good buddies with the entire time, Kevin (12) and Wilbur (13), hugged me for a lot longer than the others. Near the end, when all the kids were leaving, Kevin and Wilbur returned with giant tears in their eyes. They told me that they would always remember me and that I've been one of the best friends in their lives. That's when the first round of tears started.

I got it together and while I was taking the big pot that held the soup and all the dirty bowls back to the house of the Sra. Martin (the San Isidro mom that helps us everyday with nearly every project), I ran in to Sra. Martin. She asked me why I had tears in my eyes and I told her it was because I was leaving. All of a sudden, she ran at me with a huge hug and started bawling. For a good five minutes, we cried and hugged each other. I thanked her for all of her work and she told me that she would continue taking care of the kids and that she wanted me to come back to San Isidro if I ever return to Peru. Her little six year old son, Miguel, also ran at me hysterically crying.

I got on a crowded bus with a sunset on the horizon and for the final time, I said goodbye to San Isidro, Mollebaya, and Socabaya. On the bus back, looking at the picture the kids gave me and looking out the window at the huge dirt hills that surround San Isidro, I could not help but cry - again. Though, this time, I wouldn't say it was a sad cry. It was a rare feeling of being completely satisfied. About four months ago, I traveled half way across the world from the hustle and bustle of the USA to the simple, yet trying life of San Isidro and Coporaque. I sacrificed sleep and, sometimes, sanity to help a people who try so hard, yet still have nothing. In every point in life, there are those people that will forever change you. San Isidro has done that for me - every child, every mother, every setback, and every success. I can not imagine not seeing the faces of those children every day.

Back on the bus, my friend leaned over to me, and whispered to me: "Better to loved and lost. Don't cry. You did a great job there."

Thank you San Isidro, thank you INTIWAWA, and thank you Peru for giving me an incredible life experience.

"Siempre para los niños, por los niños." ("Forever for the children, because of the children.")

I'm off on my independent travels for about a month (Ica, El Carmen, Lima, Cusco, and Puno). I'll keep updating you all on what I see.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Que dificil es decir Adios...

This was the week of Colca (Colca Canyon).

On Monday and Tuesday, the schools were closed due to the Swine Flu. So two volunteers and I thought it would be a great opportunity to travel to Cabanaconde and trek to the Oasis. So, early Monday (1 AM) we hopped on a bus that arrived to the quiet Colca Canyon city, Cabanaconde at 6 AM. We had a quiet breakfast of Coca Tea and Bread as we prepared ourselves to make the hike.

Though cold for the first couple of hours, the hike down was spectacular. The tranquility of the canyon was unbelieveable. Besides the tourists that were suffering from hiking the other way, there was no noise the entire time. Just the very strong sun, the scenery, and us.

The Oasis (our destination) is a small hostal in the middle of the canyon. There's several very authentic huts where we slept and a makshift pool full of river water. We spent the rest of the day here laying in the sun, reading, and eating fantastic meals prepared by the Peruvian hosts. At night, there was only candlelight. We played cards and gazed at the best display of stars I have ever seen.

The next day, after an early pancake breafast, we set out for a very steep but less difficult than expected hike up the mountain. It took about 3 hours. We then hopped on another bus to journey another 5 hours back to Arequipa.

This week was also my last week in Coporaque teaching English. On Friday, I returned to Coporaque to teach English greetings and say goodbye to the kids, the amazing teachers, the family that INTIWAWA always stays with when in Coporaque, and - ultimately - the village: my favorite place so far in Peru. I took another volunteer with me - the volunteer who has decided to continue with the English project I started. The hardest part was eating lunch with the family and remembering all of my stays there (my awkward first visit, my extended stay for the Congreso, and my several trips fighting with authorities to let me start an English project). Saying goodbye to them was extremely hard. All of the kids said: No te vayas, por favor (Please, don't go!). And the mother and father just thanked me for everything I did and asked me to always remember Coporaque.

Hopping on the bus back to Arequipa, I realized that it would not be hard to always remember Coporaque. I loved everything about that village - the pigs in the street, the dirt roads, the stone houses, the Alpaca steaks, the peacefulness, and even the instant coffee. I will forever miss Coporaque and the Colca Canyon.

How hard it is to say Goodbye.
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