Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lunahuana, Paracs, Huacachina... & Baja, Mexico.

November 22- 24th

In Lunahuana there is a river, some horses, and a rock wall for daring exchange students that aren't frightened away by the loose hand grips. After the several hour drive from Lima, there was no time to stretch legs or take many pictures, just a quick change into our bathing suits to go rafting. I couldn't tell you how many short rafting trips I've done, but this one was by far the best river I've been on. We passed local men and children who fished on the skirts of the river for fish, & there were houses and hotels recently built to provide luxurious comfort for those who too, easily fell in love with the mountains divided by the river- who could afford it that is. There were several boulders that our rafts had to "dodge", securely guided by a man with a scorpion tattoo on his bicep and a scrawny, 20-something year old woman. Of course there were many quick splashing fights and we also pulled aside to one of the banks where mild rapids pushed by that made for a natural slide... these were just some of the highlights. After each command, "atras!" (back), "avance!" (forward), "derecha, avance!" (right, forward) and the strokes of the ores to answer the calls, the same thought kept reoccurring: I can't wait to relive this experience with Maria as my captain guiding the raft in the US.

Immediately after the rafting, we ate lunch and then went horse back riding. All of us were excited to go explore the dry part of this scenic area, and after mounting the horses, we only stayed on them for about 8.5 minutes. Yup, we went up a hill, then turned around. It was quite a disappointment, but the 8.5 minutes were still nice nonetheless. We passed by a garden where they kept bees, noted by the large sign that hung from a tree: "Miel" (honey). Unfortunately we didn't have time to explore the hives, which left me a little sad that I didn't get to cross off "visit bee hives" on my list of things to do in Peru.

Then it was on to the sketch rock climbing, and aside from the grips that would start to wibble, wobble, and spin when you grabbed them, it was a hard wall to climb anyway. Only 5 of us wanted to risk our lives.

After a couple hours of driving, we arrived in Paracas at night. We checked into our hotel (my 1st hotel in Peru!), and the only real difference: they don't give you complimentary shampoo, just a bar of soap.

The next day we woke up and enjoyed breakfast on the roof which had a lovely view of the ocean and all of its boats scattered near the shore. Then we had to wait in line for over an hour to take a boat tour of some islands (Islas Ballestas). It was really strange to see so many tourists in such a condensed area "come one, come all!" Afterall, the biggest group of white people we've seen in Peru has been our own group of exchange students.

We loaded into a big boat with several other people and another group of students to take the tour. Immediately I was reminded of Baja: the speed boats to go fishing, and also touring and exploring the small islands off the coast and the seperate time when we went whale watching.

The first stop on the tour was to an island that was Paracas's version of the Nascas Lines, an ancient geoglyph, believed to be made by a pre-Inca culture (from a really really long time ago). They call the glyph "El Candelabro" (The Chandelier) for its resemblance- though the tour guide was saying that the researchers believed it resembled a cactus, which from other artifacts collected from the civilization that made this glyph, had huge cultural significances. As always, there are a lot of different theories as to who/why/how/when it was made. Regardless, it's a HUGE formation and who ever made it knew what side of the island and where exactly to make it, so that when ever it was windy (which it is in Paracas), it wouldn't mess up the geoglyph! (Check out my picture of it)

After this island, we toured other islands for their ecological significances. The majority of the islands (there were many), were big and mainly covered in white from all of the bird poop. The islands were either completely inhabited by birds (seagulls, pelicans, some Ica-type bird, penguins, some vultures, and after some research there are supposedly Blue-footed Boobys, but I didn't see any of those) or a ton of sea lions. Some of the islands even had people living on them (we delivered one of the people bread & a newspaper). My guess is that these few people live on the islands to collect the bird poop, which they sell for fertilizer. However, recently there has been over cultivation so they've had to cut down on harvesting for the sake of the ecosystem there.

Hands down, this is one of the favorite things that I've done in Peru so far- and I think largely because of how similar the whole experience was to my trip to Baja when I was 14. Three years later, I finally have gotten the chance to experience such an ecologically and culturally rich adventure again. It's a bittersweet memory, and it's funny because some of the times that I feel the most homesick are when I think about Baja- even though clearly it is not my home in Colorado. I think it's home to a lot of my personal growth, and the spark to my passion for traveling. Without Baja, I probably wouldn't be in Peru right now.
Back to Peru...
Two hours later we returned to shore, bought some souvies and drove further south to the town of Huacachina just outside of Ica. Immediately I was in awe that we were in a town, COMPLEATLY surrounded by sand, big sand dunes- the size of foothills and small mountains! My first thought: how does this city manage not be buried in sand when the wind blows?! My second thought: Magic. Our hotel for the night attracted all of the hippie travelers (many from the boat tours earlier that day too). The next thing on our agenda-- SANDBOARDING! That's something I can cross off my to-do list.

The big green bugui that would be escorting us through the dunes was big, green, noisy, and fast. With good breaks--phew! I had the front seat with my friend Savannah next to the driver. With no windshield to protect our mouths from the blowing sand, we had to cover our mouths with our hands which muffled our screams of excitement and many comments-it's very hard to have a conversation while flying over the tops of dunes, turning quickly in the valleys and zooming by other buguis in the open desert. Driving around in the dunes beats any roller coaster I've been on, because let me tell you, it's a constant adrenalin rush, especially when you start to think about things you've read about it like, "there have been an increase in deaths from reckless drivers"... you get over that quickly when you think of how much fun you're having "yippeee!"

We finally stopped to do sand boarding at a top of a pretty small dune, a hill if you will, and the sandboards weren't very inviting. Simply a piece of wood cut roughly in the shape of a snowboard, painted, fabric velcro straps and some wax applied each time you go down. No one stood up on the boards, everyone just laid down on them- much safer, and easier. My first time, I fell off my board at the end- just slightly embarassing. Our guide then picked us up at the bottom and we went on our way.The second hill, which was about twice the size of the first, our instructor MADE me go first because I fell off my board. He refused to let anyone else go unless I went, but naturally I wasn't that excited to go after my previous run. I tried every excuse I could think of "Pero, no seeee" (but, I don't know) and "Tengo mis lentes, no puedo ir primera" (I have my glasses, I can't go first). He just simply put out his hand, telling me to give him my glasses and patiently saying "ven" (come) repeatedly. After loosing the battle, he taught me the proper way to hold on to the board (because there is a good way to hold on to the wobbly velcro straps...) and off I went! No crash and burn for me! There was a girl though who crashed, twice as hard as my previous run and it was a little concerning. We kept going to more dunes, each time increasing in height and steepness. There was another group of mixed travelers who were following us and we got to know them a little bit- one was even a former exchange student who went to California (about 13 years ago). In the end, both of our guides took us to a little oaisis in the middle of nowhere in the dunes. There was a small patch full of trees, rocks and some water. After taking many photos and walking around a bit, we went to an open valley part of the dunes and enjoyed the sun set. It was a cute ending to share with the other group of travelers.

We returned, went swimming and then ate dinner. Later that night, the same girl that fell off her board ended up going to the hospital and returned with the diagnosis of an intestine infection (after everyone thought it was a head problem from the accident). I got really sick that night, from about 12:30-5am. Lots of vomit, so much so that I couldn't sleep, unless I was passing out in the bathroom by the toilet. I have never been so sick before, it was awful. I'm sparing lots of gross details, haha. I don't know what I ate... but I refuse to blame it on the ceviche I ate earlier in the trip (I love fish too much to let this scar me like the other exchange students). For the following week, my whole body was sore and I hardly ate anything.

Aside from ending the trip with being sick (and on our way to returning to Lima, we visited a winery and a castle), the trip as a whole was fantastic and I would go again to the islands and the sand dunes. I would probably avoid eating at all of the restuarants I ate at though, just to be safe...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Peruvian Wedding, Followed by a Flood.

Saturday, the 13th

My family and I were on our way, bright and early in the morning to Baranca, a city about 3 1/2 hours up north from Lima to go to a family wedding. I was extremely excited that I had the opportunity to witness a Peruvian wedding- I was looking forward to seeing if there were any cultural differences/traditions. As soon as we arrived to Baranca, we ate lunch at a Cevicheria on the beach. If that isn't a fresh source of fish, I don't know what is. It wasn't a surprise that I scarfed down my limey, salty, spicy pile of fish, octopus, onions, corn and a variation of sweet potatoes... I am a proud member of the "Clean Plate Club". After finishing my plate, I quickly joined my niece on the beach. We played a game, the idea: how much sand could she throw at me while I tried to escape the gritty doom?

Fast forward several hours to the wedding (all I did was take a nap before it): the bride wore a beautiful white dress, the typical wedding dress that you think of, longggg train and all. Overall, I didn't understand much of what was being said, but there was a lot of praying, it went like this: stand up, pray, sit down, pray, stand up, pray, pray some more, keep standing, sit back down. It was a very traditional Catholic wedding. Despite this factor, the wedding wasn't as long as I feared it would be, everyone wanted to get to the reception! At the end, when they put on the rings, they didn't say any personal vows, which I thought was interesting- they just read a line from some book and that was over. The bride and groom also didn't kiss each other at the end. While walking out of the church after the couple, we were all given rice to throw at them... I immediately thought of the birds. This being my first time at a wedding where they decided to throw rice, I decided to throw it anyway, and trying to mostly project it at the couple in their get-away car. What's the origin of the rice throwing anyway?

The reception: after the couple arrived, they did their dance and then there was a toast. I tried my first Pisco Sour (a delicious Peruvian alcoholic beverage and popular for good reason)! My cousin, Andrea, pulled me out of my chair and dragged me behind her. I didn't know what was going on and I kept asking "que pasa?!" (what's happening), but she wouldn't answer. She made us stop in the middle of the floor about 15 feet behind the married couple. I realized what was happening when other girls started to join us behind the bride; it was the bouquet toss! After much narration from the MC and me being pushed around from my cousin to stand in the right place, I started to get the feeling that I was meant to catch it. Sure enough, the bride threw it directly at me, and no one else even reached for it. I was still excited nonetheless, it was a pretty bouquet, and a good keepsake from the wedding! However, then came more nariation from the MC, and I had a hard time breaking up his fast rambling. I was being directed to do something that I couldn't understand, so my first guess of what I was supposed to do was to stand next to the married couple to take a picture. Not only was I NOT supposed to do this, I tripped on the rug and bumped into the groom and everyone laughed hysterically. After my family motioned for me to go stand next to the MC, I found myself in even a worse situation: he was rambling, rambling, rambling, and next thing I knew it, there was silence and I was holding the microphone. "Oh fuck," was what I thought to myself. After this thought, I started to ramble myself, saying things like "what a nice day..." and "I'm sorry that I don't know that much Spanish." (all in poor Spanish of course) I concluded with, "Estoy emocionada para ti," (I'm excited for you) and gave the microphone back to the MC who then concluded the event with (in a talk show host voice), "Ella es muyyyy emocionadaaaaaaa!!" (she is very excited). I rushed back to the comfort of my seat, and then also realized that I forgot to give them congratulatory kisses. I was the most ungraceful mess, it was ridiculous.

With that being said, for the rest of the night I was insanely graceful, dancing in high heels from about 10pm to 5:30 in the morning! I learned some more salsa moves from a hottie and I was shown up by the grannies at the party- who were daring each other to ask grandpapies to dance and having beer chugging contests and generally were the most rambunctious. It was the cutest thing. I didn't fall asleep until 6 in the morning, and then was awoken 3 hours later because the men wanted to keep partying- more beer, more loud music. I didn't join them, instead I went out to breakfast at a local market, then went to the beach where I had fun trying to catch a crab. I also tried to teach my family about purple sea urchins because I had found a dead and an alive one, which they thought they were trash or rocks (it wasn't that successful though, thank you Spanish).

Sunday, the 14th

After returning from the wedding with 2 cakes and all covered in sand, I was ready to do laundry. Everyone else decided to take naps during this time, and I decided that it would be great if I could do my laundry by myself because I felt confident that by then, I knew how. After loading it, connecting the hose to the washer, selecting the correct cycles, it was all ready to go! I returned to my room to continue doing random tasks. About 50 minutes later, 10 minutes short of my laundry being ready, I heard my name being tossed around downstairs- and not in a good way. I rushed down stairs because I had a feeling that something went wrong with my laundry; perhaps I put in too much soap and created the movie scene that every kid has dreamed of having: bubble heaven! Instead, I stopped on the last step of my stairs because there was water on the floor. "Ohhhhh nooooo," was my thought as I stepped into the puddle to see the rest of the damage: the kitchen was a swimming pool, as well as the back patio and part of the living room.

My jaw dropped open, and I stood there in silence while my family stared at me. "Lo siento Mama! Disculpame!" (I'm sorry mom, forgive me), was all I said repeatedly. My mom simply responded with "Hija, porque tu no preguntame? Porque no? Mida,"(daughter, why do you not ask me? Why not? Look) as she kept pointing out the water- like without her hand motion, I wouldn't have noticed the water. My parents swept the water into the drain, while me and my host sister were on the ground with our rags and a bucket. Even though my parents didn't seem to find it that amusing, my host sister seemed to agree that it was a funny scenario by making comments like "your clothes were really dirty," and "the floor will be extra clean now!" Later I confirmed this theory by asking when we were alone if she thought it was funny and she said yes, but she didn't want it to happen again. It took over an hour and a half and at one point up to 4 people to clean it up all the way.

The reason why the laundry flooded: I did everything right, except I forgot the easiest and most important part which was to connect the other end of the hose to the drain pipe.

At the end of the cleaning, I shared with my host mom that I had just found out that I was switching host families in January. Surprising myself, I started to cry as I told her details and how I wanted to keep living with them, and then she gave me a hug. She said that they would try to help me stay with them, because they loved me too (despite the flash flood in their house). I told her that I doubted that I would be allowed to stay with them, everyone has to switch families, and she simply said, "When there is a problem, there's a solution. Always. Look at this problem from your laundry... what did we do? We created a solution. We'll create a solution for this too, don't worry." I replied with "gracias" and we finished drying the floor.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In Summary.

I'm glad to announce that I'm not blowing off posting blogs, I just have been really busy! A month is a lot to write about, so I'm going to bunch everything into categories.

School: Around the last time I posted in my blog, I had finals. This was my first time actually having finals (coming from a school that did presentations and transcripts instead of exams)! I failed all of them miserably (scoring is from a 0-20, 12 and up is passing), my highest score was in English, and then Spanish was next ironically (I'm really good at filling in bubbles). My next highest score was in Geometry at 8 points. I feel confident though for my next set of finals, I will average at least 10-15 (instead of before which was averaging at 5). I understand a lot more of what's going on, and I can actually do some homework! It still takes a longer time than the average student, and it's not that high in quality, but it's enough to get a good score. The school and my family knows that I'm trying and I actually am completing work so I think everyone is happy with me- I'm happy with myself! Generally, I have mixed emotions about school: some days I love it, and others, I hate it. However, when I am in a negative mood about school, there's always good timing with a positive influence. Sometimes it's a teacher being extra nice and understanding about my situation, example: my Literature teacher gave me a book in Spanish that is also translated into Quechua- an original language from Peru. Or a friend: Grecia (my bff in school) is pushing me to practice twice as hard with my Spanish with her (I have a separate notebook where I write sentences everyday, write down verbs and their tenses, and vocabulary) because we only have a month and a half left together in school. Unfortunately, 2 of my favorite teachers were fired, one was my advisor and the other was a math teacher, who every time he saw me in the hall would shout "HEY! Jamica, what's up? What's hapennin'?!" Almost forgot to mention: my graduation is on the 3rd of December, and my prom is on the 4th (even though I have school afterwards until the 17th...). I do have a prom date, but I still need to get my dress. I've never had a school prom before; I'm excited!

Rotary: Over the month of October, I've been dealing with my visa and my insurance. Because of a lot of confusion due to miss-understanding, it was all a lot more stressful and dragged out longer than it needed to be, but it's over now, finally. There was a day full of tours and the high light was the tour of the President's palace- it was really pretty, and big! I finally have news about my first big trip in Peru; I'll be going to Cusco (Machu Pichu), Puno (Lake Titicaca), and Arequipa from the 21st to the 29th of November! Pricey, but exciting!

Trip to Mala: My first trip outside of Lima for a day, a small town about an hour & 1/2 south outside of the city. I went with an exchange student and her family to visit a family friend who has a mini-farm (pigs, roosters, ducks, and a turtle) and an apple orchard! The town itself didn't look any different than the more run down parts of Lima. However the difference was that it had fields of produce!

Trip to Haucho (Huaral): I went on a 3 day, 2 night trip to Haucho (almost 3 hours up north and on the coast) with about half of the other exchange students. The first day, we stopped half way to Haucho in Huaral to visit the Castilla de Chancay (a castle), and then we went to a hippie colony! We received tours of both, but I found the Hindu based colony a lot more interesting. They grow their own organic vegetables, use the wind for power, the sun to heat their water, and so much more! Me and a couple of other exchange students want to go volunteer there for a week. (Look at my photos to see what it looked like!) In Huaral, I tried a popular dish from there: sangrecita- cow blood with rice, usually eaten with camote (sweet potatoes) and pan (bread). 1st taste wasn't horrible, but the after taste made me want to scrape my taste buds off. As of today, I've eaten cow stomach, liver, lungs and blood, and I still haven't eaten all of the popular inside-of-cow food here! I'm going to be a vegetarian when I get back, I swear. Back to the trip. We camped out in the front yard of a host family, went to two different beaches, played games and had a bbq with the local Rotaract club, received a tour of Caral (ruins of the oldest civilization in the Americas, 3rd oldest in the world), met the mayor of Haucho, and we were invited into the special circle for the weekly flag raising ceremony (one of the exchange students actually got to raise a flag)!

College: Lucky me- I get to apply to colleges while I'm in Peru. It's a little stressing, trying to balance my Peru life while trying to get ready for my life when I return to the US. Especially because I feel like I can't speak/write/spell in proper English as well anymore, but it's a good sign that I'm really picking up Spanish. It's going well though, I'm managing it, and I'm half way done!

Senor De Los Milagros: The month of October is dedicated to Senor De Los Milagros, also known as Jesus (as I've been told). There are several really big processions throughout the month in the street with hundreds of thousands of people (largest crowd I have EVER been in, kind of scary honestly), there's a marching band and a group of men carry a HUGE alter with a picture of Jesus and tons of flowers and candles (the procession I went to, my brother was one of the carriers- a big honor!) for many blocks into a church. This is a huge holiday in Peru, people participate in this also to ask for miracles (milagros). The colors to celebrate the month long holiday are purple and white, and the traditional food are Turrones- a dessert with layers of cookie and honey and the top is sprinkled with sugar candies. So delicious!

Race: One day in class, I was practicing Spanish with Grecia. We were interrupted by a student who put a picture of an African-American man on the screen of the computer for the class to see- the majority of the class laughed hysterically. I sat there puzzled, and I tried to listen through their laughter to see if anything was actually being said, but the picture was all they needed for their joke. I started analyzing the picture: it looked like an old portrait of an African-American during the slavery era, dressed in a uniform to fight in the war- during the time when they told men if they joined the army, they would receive their freedom. I then turned to Grecia and asked them why they were laughing, even though I feared I already knew. She looked at the picture and said "because they think he looks funny." I asked why they thought he looked funny; it was just an average picture. She said plain and simply: because he's black. I turned back to stare at them and the picture, I was in shock. "There are a lot of people in Peru that are racist, but they aren't. They're good people," she said to interrupt my silence because she could tell that I was upset. I turned back to stare at her and my jaw was hanging open, all I could think was: if that's not racist, then what is? She continued with "there are lots of tv shows in Peru that make fun of them and..." she couldn't think of the word, but I knew what she was talking about so I said it, "indigenous people." Before I came to Peru, I heard about one of the shows: a man who dresses up (including painting his skin) to look like a stereotypical Afro-peruvian man, and his other skit is to dress up like an indignous woman from the Andes. She confirmed that indigenous people were the other people and then went on to say, "people think it's funny, it's not racist, it's popular here." I immediately responded with "well, that wouldn't be popular from where I'm from," she was like "really?" and I nodded. I turned to look back at the screen and they switched the picture to Michael Jackson. While I was thinking about everything to say, Grecia got up and went to talk to other people, indicating she wasn't that interested in finishing the conversation. I was in a bad mood for the rest of class, thinking about the whole event. I thought of many questions like: if this doesn't cross the line for you, then what does? How far does someone have to go before you consider it to be racist? How can you make fun of indigenous people when you are descendants from them? Now, I'm dissapointed with myself for not trying harder to break through the language barrier and to try to continue the conversation when Grecia left me. Though this situation didn't end positively, I did learn more about the students in my class and it left me more motivated to re-contact (I emailed them before I came, but they never replied) the Afro-peruvian activist group that has been fighting to get those tv shows off the air.

Halloween: To end my blog on a more positive note, I had a really good Halloween- one of the best I've had yet! In the morning, I went to a cemetery with my host family where we met more members of the family to sit around the grave of the grandfather. Children walk around the graveyard with buckets of paint, water and brooms so you can pay them to clean up the grave. After the grave was swept and splashed with water, we lit candles, set up flowers and then poured a lot of water all over the grave (and later beer). We drank beer and ate cookies, (there are vendors and people who walk around selling snacks), and sat around for three hours enjoying ourselves. At night I hung out with my close exchange friends: we baked cookies, I taught more swing dancing, we carved pumpkins (and roasted the seeds!) and in the end, didn't end up going to bed until 5:30 in the morning. In general, Halloween isn't that popular; trick-or-treating exists just for little kids and they only go to businesses. Despite the lack of enthusiasm from the general public in Peru, we, the exchange students adapted well.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Two Month Anniversary

22nd of September 2010, 3:02 am
"Hurry up! Pack everything you can into the van," my grandmother said with a strong sense of urgency as she stepped into the blue vehicle. Surrounding the car was my uncle Theo, mom, sister, grandparents and great grandparents. They were all frantic, bustling about, grabbing whatever was in arm's reach from the abundance of looming, metal racks. There were beach balls and white cardboard boxes... I stood there dazed, overwhelmed with confusion and anxiety, 'where are we going?' I thought to myself.

We all piled into the van and as we were buckling our seatbelts, my great grandmother was the one to get behind the wheel and ferociously step on the gas. We were all terrified, as none of us have seen her behind the wheel for many years. I could not see see an exit, just more shelves- why were there so many shelves in this warehouse?! My grandma however did see one and did not allow the shelves to get in her way even though physically, they were. We hit every shelf as we swerved to-and-fro which lead to the loud crashing of metal on concrete and the contents of boxes being splayed across the floor...

I slowly opened my eyes, prompted by the strong shaking of my bed moving left and right; I awoke with the same feeling of confusion that I remembered from my dream. Staying motionless, I continued to lay in my bed, trying to comprehend why it was shaking. My immediate response was to listen. I listened for what I was feeling and hoping to hear something that confirmed that it wasn't just my bed rattling (the boogieman?). I looked towards my window, even though the curtains were closed, I was expecting to see a large 16 wheeler truck rumbling by. Nothing. As my bed continued to shake and I was becoming more awake with each shift in its position, I thought: this is an earthquake... oh my god. This-is-an-earthquake!

Despite this realization, I continued to lay in bed. I reckon it was the combination of shock, and enjoying the ride. Not to mention, I still wasn't entirely sure that I knew what was going on... after all, I've never experienced an earthquake before. I kept listening for something that would confirm my theory. The confirmation was the sound of other doors opening from down the hallway. At that point I quickly put on my glasses and headed toward my own door. I threw it open and there I saw my host mom and brother in their separate doorways.

"Espera," (wait) my mom said as she motioned me to stand still. We stood there, in our own arches of protection in silence, waiting. After a few more seconds passed, I giggled- I couldn't suppress my excitement any further! My family responded with tired chuckles and I could tell they didn't care about this earthquake as much as me; it was far from their 1st.

Finally, the trembling ceased. We waited for another moment before we each stepped into our rooms, quietly shutting our doors behind us. I let all of my excitement out by running around the room, stopping to look at the clock and to grab my notebook and pen to record the events.

I returned back to my bed and it was not a surprise that I could not fall back asleep immediately, especially when I realized: today marks the two months that I have been living in Peru! This was Peru's gift to me for residing in her territory and it made me anxious for how we would celebrate our six month anniversary.
As the day progressed, I was generally in a fantastic mood- as are most Wednesdays for me. Not only did I have an earthquake to start the day off right, it was the last day of my week and a half of final exams and I enjoyed my first Luna bar in Peru (a daily treat that I left behind in CO), courtesy of my first care package.

Further more, my school was throwing a party to start off it's four day celebration of the school's anniversary- which also means optional school until next Tuesday (I'm choosing 'no')! There was a huge crowd all night outside of the school trying to get in, which made it look like more like a night club. Thanks to my connection with the school's security/crossing guard who was being the bouncer for the party, I was able to pass the line and get in quickly (I'll explain him in another post), which made people upset that I could get in and not them- I felt pretty bad ass. Most of my close friends from school were there, and there were a lot of strangers from other schools, and off the street- the school literally became a dance club, equipped with DJ, lights and all. There was another "hora loca", which makes any party fun and generally I enjoyed myself a lot- dance, dance, dance!

Now tell me, is this not a great way to spend an anniversary?! I enjoyed every second of it- as well as most of the two months that I've been living in Peru.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


It has been too long since I last wrote... sorry. Since it has been so long, I will be sharing short, random observations and stories.

I'll start with parties, since they all happened after my last post. I had two weekends in a row of family parties and on average, starting at 6pm and going until 2am. Their family parties are very different than any family gathering I've ever been too- they felt more like high school parties. The first couple of parties I went to were OK, I was too tired and not able to talk with anyone, so they were kind of boring for me. Then came my brother's going away party, starting at 12 on a Sunday afternoon and going until 11 at night (I didn't have to go to school the next day!). My family is VERY big, and when I made my rounds greeting everyone, I felt overwhelmed, trying to remember everyone's name and how they were related to me.

I can easily say that there were at least 50 or 60 people during the climax of the party, which was at 5pm during "Hora Loca" (crazy hour) when a hired company came in with their jesters, balloons, confetti, music and masks. The point of crazy hour, is to have EVERYONE (whether you're 2 or 80 years old) dance for one straight hour, only pausing briefly to drink more or get another balloon. A difference that I have noticed between the two cultures, is not necessarily that Peruvians dance more often, it's more like, even if you're 80 with a cane, you still dance. In fact, there were many points in the evening where the grandparents were trying to get the teenagers to dance! I enjoyed myself immensely because I was finally able to dance, and because the whole family was very happy to have me there (they even gave me a toast!). Part of this might have been because most of them were drunk, but in truth it's because that's how families work here- everyone is part of your family. At one point, I was sitting around with all of my primos (cousins, & all in their 20's or 30's) and they helped me recount who was who and how they were related to me, including them, where they defiantly pointed to themselves and said, "Soy tu primo," (I am your cousin). Everyone owned their relation to me as if I had always been a part of their family, like I had just been gone for a long time and they were welcoming me back into their lives.

To end one of the best parties that I have ever attended, one of my cousins put on 'Footloose', and 'She's a Maniac' (a dramatic change from the salsa music they blasted for the majority of the night) exclaiming "I LOVE JOHN TRAVOLTA!". Of course, I started to laugh hysterically, since neither of these songs had anything to do with him. I started to dance, the way that you do with these two songs, cheesy 80's moves and running in place. They all quickly tried to do what I was doing and for the first time that evening, I was being looked at for advice, not the other way around.

The following Thursday, my host brother left for his year long exchange to New York. I had mixed feelings about it... the main concern being that he was the only one in the family that knew any english and I would be left in a more difficult situation. His whole departure was far too similar to mine, and it felt like I was reliving my last week in Colorado. The going away party, staying up until 3 in the morning the night before your flight, doing last minute packing then getting up two hours later to go to the airport, and of course, lots of crying. Being at the airport with my family, gave me the other perspective of having to say goodbye from the other side of the boarding gate.

Aside from the obvious sadness that comes from saying 'so long' and watching the "bird leave the nest", I imagined it was especially hard on his parents. The bird seems to take its time leaving here; there is no rush to flap your wings and create a new nest of your own. There isn't a magic number (18), a secret push from the parents (sometimes not always a secret), college, or even as far as marriage and a kid- in the case of my oldest brother at age 27. Over the next year, I look forward to understanding more about the different expectations of the children and the parenting styles, as I have quickly observed they are very different.


Cuy, Spanish for Guinea Pig, is a popular delicacy in Peru. I have finally had the opportunity to not just see the crispy fried body lying on a plate next to potatoes, but eat one of its legs. Mmm, mmm, tasty. My brother ordered one on a sunny Sunday afternoon (sunny is rare here, so I already declared it to be a good day) when my family went out to a restaurant. When the waitress brought it out, all eyes were on me because my family wanted to see my reaction- hoping for something like a squeamish gag reflex. I did not give them what they wanted, not entirely. It took all of my strength to keep my jaw clenched shut, except for when I nodded my head saying "Yup...". My family asked me if I liked it, and I said, "No se," (I don't know) because at the time, I had never tried it. If it was based off of first impressions, I would probably say, "Ummm I'll get back to you on that one..." but they wouldn't understand it, so I didn't bother. At the time, its face reminded me of a Thestrals's from Harry Potter, I guess from the crispy looking skin, and the missing eyeballs.

It took my brother a while to rip off one of its legs for me, because apparently, Guinea Pigs like to keep all limbs attached, even when they're dead. It sat on my plate, and I stared at it, observing the foot that had its nails clipped, but were still there, and I started to make sure I had everything ready for me to take my first bite. Was there a drink nearby in case I needed something to help get it down? Napkin in hand, check. Extra lettuce on my plate to hide the rest of the remains in case I don't like it? I decided that I was ready, I had all of my back up plans, and I knew where the bathroom was if worst came to worst. I took my bite, and to my surprise, it tasted similar to chicken, but like something I've never had before. It actually tasted fairly good. I had a difficult time getting the rest of the meat off of its leg (like I said, Guinea Pigs like to stay intact), but in conclusion, I would eat it again.


Monday, August 16, 2010

School & Other Updates

I have a best friend from my class. Couldn´t spell her name for ya, but it sounds similar to Greece (I have this joke in my head that my class is like the United Nations because her name sounds like Greece, mine Jamaica, and this other boy´s sounds like Israel). She is conversational in English, so she helps me with Spanish, and I help her with English. She was the same girl that I sat next to on my first day who also shared her toilet paper with me. On Wednesdays we have PE. My first Wednesday I didn´t have the athletic uniform, so she brought an extra pair of pants to school for me to wear- she is too nice. My experience in school would be really different with out her. Also on Wedneday after school, a bunch of girls invited me to go play volleyball in a park with them, which I gladly accepted- my first time being out of the house without a family member!

As the days have gone by, I have noticed and learned more things about this school that is SO different from my former. In fact, I will go as far as to say that it is the exact opposite. It reminds me of a military function sometimes... some examples: at the beginning and end of PE there is a roll call where everyone has a number, not a name (for it, I was nameless and numberless), and when your number is called you have to stand and make yourself present. When we´re done with PE in the courtyard, we have to do this salute thing while the coach screams "1,2,3,4" (in english too), we have to do different body motions corrisponding to each number. It´s simple and easy, I learned it the first time (after having my bff show me). Not to mention, when ever we have to make a line, we have to make two, boys and girls. When a new teacher walks into the room, a student yells "attention!" and everyone has to stand next to their desk and greet the teacher. Eventually, when the teacher decides, they tell the kids to sit back down. Last thing that I can think off of the top of my head: If the teacher is in the room before you (usually happens after lunch, before class even starts), you have to wait in the doorway and ask for permission to enter the classroom and then they will wave you in. I learned this the hard way after lunch one day. I was with my group of girls that I always hang out with, and upon approaching the door, I kept walking and they came to an abrupt hault. My bff grabbed me by the shoulder of my sleeve and yanked me back as hard as she could. When I was back at her side, she was still holding tightly on to me, and in a stern whisper, she explained this rule. Finally when the teacher let us in, we laughed while I rubbed my arm.

I have 20 classes: Geometry, Algebra, Trigonometry, Arithmatic, English, Spanish, Universal History, Peru History, Literature, Logic, Philosophy, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Politics, PE, Religion, a class that´s like advisement I think... ? A class period on every Monday dedicated just for taking exams for all of the classes, and some other math class that I don´t know what it is in English. 7 of these classes I have twice a week, and the rest is just once.

On Friday, my 2 hour english class was cancelled. When I found this out from my friend, I screemed "noooooooo!" and turned and started banging my head and fists on my desk. After my fit, I sat up and looked around the classroom. The WHOLE class, including the teacher that had just walked in, was in complete silence and staring at me. My mouth dropped open from pure embarassment and fear that the teacher was going to yell at me. I turned to my friend and as soon as we made eye contact we busted out laughing, and continued for the rest of class. Near by kids started laughing and other kids wanted in on the laughter... the teacher just started talking with other students about me because she didn´t know who I was- talk about a good first impression.

The language barrier has been really frustrating at times, but more often than not, it usually ends in laughter. For instance, one of my books that I write my spanish words and phrases in was being passed around in class (this happens every day). I had a sentence in it that had the wrong word for what I meant. The sentence said "no hablo español, pero estoy molesta". I was trying to say "I don´t speak spanish, but I´m trying", but the word for trying was wrong, instead of molesta, which is angry, it needed to be tratando. My friend who read it gave me a strange looking expressing that she was confused. I didn´t know the correct word so she was trying to describe it to me through cherades by making an angry face, clenching her fists and "grring". We both started laughing like hyenas and I said "no entiendo", because it looked like she was constipated. She finally used my dictionary and we resolved the problem, I was saying "I don´t speak spanish, but I am angry". Since then, we have made constant jokes about the words molesta and tratando. I have many more spanish/english stories to share some other time.

Odds & ends: I have come to a conclusion- when I can´t say something in Spanish and need to say it in English, I will speak with a british accent. I will come home knowing three more languages, sign language, spanish and a proper british accent. I cracked myself up with this theory.
I bought my first lunch today by myself (my friend used to buy it for me)! This is huge! The scene is soooo chaotic, hungry kids crowding around the small window to a tiny hut containing their stomach´s desires, screaming at the women who are serving. You have to wedge your way to the front and first get their attention "Señora, señora!" Once they look at you, you have to quickly say what you want (as they have hundreds of mouths to satisfy), and money ready in hand. I had what I had to say written on a piece of paper, which all of my school friends laughed at me for, and I pushed myself up to the front, saying "Señora". apparently I wasn´t being assertive enough, so my friend screamed it for me. Finally, I got my reward: a chicken sandwhich! I am looking forward to doing it tomorrow, with out the piece of paper.
My name is still a popular topic of discussion.
I am looked at as the "wierd American" because I don´t like Hannah Montana, Justin Bieber or the Jonas Brothers.

Friday, August 13, 2010

First Day of School


While walking to school (only 3 short blocks from my house) this morning, I was thinking that my day was already off to a bad start: my host mom made me drink a steaming hot cup of milk, but at least I managed to add hot chocolate to it. When me, my mom and a school official were walking up the stairs to my classroom, I suddenly felt the urge to grab my mom by the sleeve of her jacket and beg her to let me not go to school, I didn´t want her to leave my side (despite our previous milk disagreement). I kissed her goodbye and turned and stood in the doorway next to my first teacher of the day. She asked me if I wanted to speak in Spanish or English and after pausing for a second and quickly thinking between the two options, I replied: Español por favor. She smiled and together we entered the classroom; it was loud and all eyes were on me. Through a group of tall boys who were yelling at each other, a short girl poked her head through and yelled "Hola! Como te llamas?" I shouted my name back and she replied with, "it´s nice to meet you," and I said the same, but in Spanish. I looked around at the rest of the class and loudly said "Buenos dias!" and to my surprise, I received several positive responses. A girl from the far side of the classroom motioned to have me sit next to her since there was an empty seat. As I sat down, the teacher introduced me to the class and I found myself sitting there, in a rather positive state of mind- I was happy to be there.

During class, I was bombarded with questions from the surrounding girls, most of which I didn´t understand. Of course, with introductions one´s name comes up and at this moment all of the students were trying to say my name. After saying it countless times, spelling it and trying to relate my name to some words that they would know, there were a couple of students who were close enough. I told them I had a weird name and they all happily agreed.

When a new teacher would walk into our room, the girls would tell me if they thought that teacher was good or not, I´m glad to report that most of them received good remarks. About half of the teachers recognized that I was a new student, the other half didn´t look at me twice because they thought that I was Peruvian. When I introduced myself to all of my teachers (I have about 13 different ones), most of them gave me approving smiles, and some asked a million and one questions, especially the 4 that are conversational in English.

I quickly noticed how close my class seemed to be, but I guess that´s hard not to do when you share one classroom with the same kids all day, every day. The schedule is interesting and it´s hard to keep up with. We are allowed one 20 minute break at 11:00, which is a snack break (the students eat lunch after school past 2:30) where we get to leave the classroom, other than that, we are required to stay in the same classroom from 7:30-2:30. Between subjects, we don´t actually have an official break, just the time it takes for the teacher to get to our classroom. during these moments, the classroom becomes chaotic due to everyone wanting to jump out of their seats and screw around for the short time that they don´t have adult supervision. All of the breaks included the students jumping out of their seats and surrounding mine. No matter where I looked, I saw the retched uniforms- so awful. I felt a little bit like an animal in a zoo, but I, unlike most zoo animals, actually enjoyed the cage that I was in... it was welcoming and fun.

During one of my classes, a man interrupted it to make an announcement. To my surprise he started off with, "This announcement is for English speaking students, if you don´t know English, you probably don´t understand me righ now anyway." My heart started racing, and I still didn´t know what his actual announcement was about. "There will be our annual Christmas Carol in December and we are currently casting ENGLISH SPEAKING students only for our play, Beauty and the Beast. If you are interested in acting in this play, come to the English office after school this week and you will try out then. Have a good day." You can bet I´ll have a good day! I was so happy to hear this announcement and other students shared their excitement with me, encouraging me to try out and offering to take me to the office after school. The announcement was too good to be true, but I was very confused as to why they were having a play in English, considering most of the teachers and students don´t know it.

Odds & ends:
The bathrooms have no toilet paper, you have to bring your own. No one told me this, so after making this observation on my own before I actually used the restroom, I walked back out to the courtyard and asked the girl that took me under her wing for some. I didn´t know the name for toilet paper in Spanish but I tried anyway, "donde esta el papel del baño?" (where is the paper of the bathroom), in response she pulled out a wad of toilet paper from her pocket and gave me half.

Many schools here have the "Olympics", where each classroom is a different country and they all compete against each other in various sports on every Saturday of September. I plan on participating it it, but I´m annoyed to say that the girls only have three sport options (basketball, running, and volley ball) as compared to the guys who have much more. Every student gets to pick two.

Last, there is a prom, that´s all I know about it. I am in "fifth" grade (12th in the US), and I am "graduating" in December, after that, I´m supposed to go to a university with most of the other exchange students. This is just a rumor that I know of right now, so I´m not getting my hopes up for anything. I get to have 2 graduations!? Dope.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

General Observations/ First Impressions

To start things off, here is the link where I´m posting my pictures from Peru, so check it occasionally to see more photos (I will announce if there is anything super duper exciting to check out): http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=199337&id=512638949&l=6f190aef53

Family: My niece is the cuttest little girl ever. For those of you that have seen Monsters Inc. she looks exactly like Boo, and acts like her sometimes. I love it every time she calls me Tia (I don´t think I´ll ever actually be an aunt from home, haha).
The first actual day that I was here, I met my abuela (grandma) and some other members of the family, and they are all very sweet. At one point, me, my grandma, my mom and my brother were standing in the cocina (kitchen) and my grandma asked me if my mom was sad that I was gone. After translation from my brother, I said si. She then asked if I was sad, and I said si. At that point, my mom turned around and embraced me in a big hug, and after pulling away she put her hand on my cheek and spoke quickly in spanish. Even though I did not understand what she said, I understood the support that she was giving me, and I appreciated it.

Food: The food here is fantastic! There is always rice, potatoes or yuca served at every meal. I have loved every meal that I have eaten here, and I can´t wait to learn how to cook food like this so when I get home I can share it with everyone. I did have my first interesting food experience though, let me tell you. For lunch a several days ago, we had what looked like pasta, with beef, and on the side a potatoe and meat dish. I assumed that the meat with the potatoes was beef as well, but as I found out a couple of days later, I wasn´t quite right. After taking several bites of this ingrediant I wasn´t sure about, I knew that it wasn´t beef. It´s texture was a little bit more chewy, it had a whole lot of viens/other internal looking qualities of it, and the taste wasn´t very beefy. I knew that I was eating something from the inside of an animal, but I wasn´t sure what exactly. I tried to keep this off of my mind while I ate, because I was afraid that I might have some awful gag reflex. But with each bite, I could not keep it from my mind. So, I ate. And I ate some more. The problem with lunch here, is that it´s the biggest meal of the day, so there was no escaping the quantity of this internal organ that I had to eat. It didn´t taste BAD persay, but it didn´t taste like the best damn thing I have ever eaten in my whole life, either. The thing that was the most confusing to me was that there was SOOO much of it, and there were six of us eating our own seperate portions. While eating, I was going through all of the organs in my head to see if any of them would match up with the amount that we were all consuming. I canceled out the possiblities of: hearts (not chewy enough anyway), tounges, livers, and gizzards (haha). I had no idea what I was eating, but I knew that I didn´t want to ask while I was eating. A couple of days later, I remembered to ask my brother. We had: Chanfainita, in english this is known as: cow stomach. Boy oh boy, was I surprised! This is a delicacy of Peru that I did not know about as I thought it stopped at cow hearts and guinea pigs. Cows have more than one stomach... and I´m sure they are big to begin with... this would explain the abundance of it. Moo.

City: The first thing that I noticed in the city were all of the trees here. Most of which I have never seen anything like. I love them, and I want to start documenting them. The second thing that I noticed were the colorful houses. Many of the houses are painted in bright oranges, blues, reds and pink even! There is this particular hillside that we have passed a couple of times now, and almost every house is a bright color. I am captivated by it each time we pass because many houses are colors you would never see on a house in the US. I´m loving the brightness of the city. Currently, this is the only bright thing in the city because the sun hasn´t been out yet. I have been here for almost a week and I still haven´t seen the sun. It is driving me insane! The advertising here is really only for political stuff (or Peruivian things, which is nice), there are a LOT of KFC´s, McDonalds, Dunkin´Donuts (more than Colorado), Pizza Huts and Starbucks. And there is a surpisgnly large amount of stray dogs, and a small amount of dandilions.

Me: I am surprised with how relaxed I have been. I am not sick yet, which for all of those who have traveled with me, know this is HUGE. Normally I get sick within the first couple of days, but I don´t even have a sniffle! I have been going with the flow, now more than ever, which is also a big change for me. My daily planner was booked until the very second that I left last Wednesday, but since I have been in Peru, every day is blank. Granted, I can´t really plan much here, not yet anyway... but it is a nice feeling to not have to pay attention to the time, and when I get home, I hope to find the balance between "go with the flow", and an organized schedule.
Last, I have been amazing myself every day with the amount of effort I am putting in to speaking spanish. I am not getting too frustrated, yet, and I´m not embarrassed or shy to try to speak in my spanglish with other exchange students, my family or other peruvians. I am more open with my spanish here, then I was at home, practicing with my friends. I am content with where I´m at right now.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The First Supper

Hey all, I know it has taken me a while to create this blog, but I have been so busy! I can´t believe that today is already Saturday. I will start off with Wednesday, the night I arrived.

After a long day of travel, I finally arrived in Peru. I walked out past the customs and into the massive crowd where families, travel agencies, and friends were waiting with signs greeting the travelers. I slowly moved past the first crowd because I wanted to make sure I didn´t miss my host family. I turned the corner to see the other side of the crowd and there they were, holding a sign with my name in bold, black letters, with pink fringe as the border. The mom stood out the most to me because she started jumping up and down as soon as I put on my big smile and picked up my pace towards them, confirming it was actually me. They each stuck out an arm over the rope that was keeping us from each other, and apon embrace, there were kisses on the cheeks.

A couple of pictures were taken, and then we went to our car to drive home. That was my first time stepping outside since I left my house at 5:45 earlier that morning, and let me tell you, it was COLD. I knew it was winter, but I didn´t think that it could possibly get that cold. My mom and I talked about how cold it was, and that was pretty much the extent of our conversation. We got in the car and I buckled my seatbelt. Shortly after, my brother patted my belt buckle and said: In Peru, no necessary, in the U.S, very. Here, no. We laughed as I took off my seatbelt.

My parents kept asking (mainly my mom, as I soon learned that she is very talkative and has a loud laugh, which I love) questions about me, where I´m from, and other related topics and they soon found out how little spanish I know. They then moved on to if I was hungry, I said no gracias, but they still insisted that I was hungry and that we should stop at Mcdonald´s or KFC. At that point I felt a sense of urgency to explain that I had recently eaten on the plane and was not hungry, but alas I did not know how to say this in spanish. I did not want to ruin my couple year streak of not consuming either of these fast food resturants. Instead (and I don´t know how this was decided), we went to this fast food resturant native to Peru, so I felt much better.

We finally got home and honestly all I wanted to do was sleep, but now I had to eat. My other brother, his wife and their 3 year old daughter greeted us when we walked through the door. More kisses. My niece gave me a big balloon in the shape of a bunnie´s head. This girl is one of the cutest I´ve ever met. As the mom was organizing the food to eat, I sat waiting in the living room with the rest of the family. While I was looking around and recognizing random pieces of furniture from the assortment of pictures that my host brother has sent me, the topic that I had been waiting for finally came up. How do you say my name? I said it properly and everyone tried saying it themselves, all were wrong, but I didn´t feel like trying to break their own pronounciation of the letter "j", I actually really liked the sound of it: HA-meeka. After everyone tried it, they all argued about who was the closest, and this confirmed that this was a big topic before I arrived, it made me giggle.

After having some of the best fast food chicken I´ve ever had, my first sip of Inca Kola (which reminds me of liquid bubble gum so I didn´t like it very much, not to mention that this soda ruined my almost three year streak of not having soda), then having a corona, they escorted me to my bedroom. This bedroom is about twice the size of my old one, so I was basking in the space. I started getting out my stuff that I would need to get ready for bed when my niece ran into my room, messing with all of my stuff. I found it rather amusing, but my brother scolded her and took her out of my room. Despite this lecture in spanish that I didn´t understand, she still ran in to my room over and over again... maybe I´m not the only that doesn´t understand all of the spanish in this house.