Monday, February 21, 2011

Ilo and Tacna

February 13th-18th
Only a small group of the exchange students went to visit Ilo, a trip planned by a different exchange student that lives there with no fellow exchangees. It was an 18 hour bus ride which I think makes the record for the longest amount of time that I have remained seated, it was awful. Though, the bus was fancy and secure which made it somewhat more comfortable. As the bus rolled into Ilo, I didn't think anything nice of it, it looked the same as any other small town I've been to in Peru. That thought quickly changed though when we got off the highway and into the actual city. Sure, it had its common factors like colorful houses, lots of ships in the ocean and dirt hills surrounding the outskirts of the town. However the differences that I noticed were that the town was very hilly, which reminded me of a shore from Greece and how they built their houses until they met the shore. The sidewalks were different, instead of the slick gray ones that are throughout Lima, there were black pebbly ones, with red cement in the form of a wave along one side. There were regular fishing boats, but then there were also 3 huge Navy boats!

I was staying with Paola and her family which was by no fickle finger of fait- she was an exchange student that went to Colorado two years ago! She lived in Brighton and she stayed with my country contact, commonly known as Grandpa Rick. I was really excited to stay with her since we had met over facebook but never set anything up in person (that's quite a huge jump isn't?). We immediately ate lunch in her beautiful house which is located over her mother's shop on the main avenue of the town.

After lunch we went to a museum called Chiribaya which was about the indigenous cultures from the region from hundreds and thousands of years ago. They had many interesting displays including many real mummies, which unlike the common thought of a laid out mummy from Egypt, they were buried in a sitting position, knees to chest... if they were small (mainly babies) sometimes they even put them inside of a pot! Directly after, we went to the shore and took a boat tour of the sea lions which in total, there was about 5. It was really boring (I feel like I've been on enough of these for Peru). Then we walked around and went out for ice cream.

Later that night (after much arguing with the president of the club), we went to a discoteca and got in for free for Valentines day. We were there for several hours and unfortunately we went early so the party didn't get started until a half hour before we left. It was my first discoteca though and it was outside on a roof!

Early the next morning we had a tour at a copper factory. The power point beforehand was torture, but the actual machines and equipment was all really interesting! I went back to my house to have lunch where I had the best seafood soup I've had in my life. After lunch my family and I went to the beach and it was the coldest water I've been in years. That night the Rotary club hosted a "welcome" party, it was casual. It wasn't that exciting, but it was nice.

On the next day we had a guided private tour of the Navy ships, there were so many hot sailors... oh yeah, and the ships were cool too. While we were in the "cock-pit" of the ship (I don't know what it's called... control room?), a couple of ropes that kept the ships attached to the dock snapped and then a guy ran in and set off one of the alarms. That was neat to be crowded around all of the switches and phones and buttons, though I'm sure that guy found it annoying. About ten minutes later, another rope snapped (I actually saw it this time!), just from the waves being so strong. These are HUGE ropes too, how scary.

Then I went to the beach again where I met 2 Argentinian girls who would be returning to their country the following day. The younger sister who is 9 reminded me of my 10 year old neighbor, Mara so I absolutely loved hanging out with her and talking about random things. She even told me this joke, which was a favorite activity of my neighbor as well, I didn't understand it so she broke it down for me and ten minutes later I got it. It wasn't that funny, much like my neighbors' ;)

The Navy men invited us to a fancy party they were having later that night on one of their ships, naturally we all got really excited. More time with these men in their sleek, white, uniforms and even twice the amount that we saw earlier that day. I think we found heaven. So we went (after drama about trying to figure out what to wear, none of us brought formal clothes), and as soon as we were on board we realized what the party was: it was kind of a meet-and-greet since there was something like 150 Navy men and 50 people that were invited, and mainly women. There was a live band, food, and did I mention, hot Navy men? I danced with many, the first one was the most engaging: he asked me "como se dice 'bailar' en Espanol?" I told him, 'dance' and then he responded in English: you are very good. Did I blush? Not important. We were there for several hours and after a while it did get a little annoying, the whole: there are 150 of us and 50 of you, I have to hunt you down when you're not dancing before someone else gets to you, and I'm just going to keep staring at you. Because of that, I mainly danced with guys that I asked, the ones that weren't staring me down like a piece of rare meat.

The next day we left early in the morning to go to Tacna, another city that was an option for my exchange. It's bigger than Ilo, and about 2 hours futher south. I liked Ilo a lot more, I found it more beautiful from the general vibe of a small town to how everything was built. Tacna is also just about 20 minutes away from Arica, a town in Chile... we intended on stopping by but the Rotary club that we were with in Ilo forbid it because it was too complicated (even though it wasn't, since I popped into Ecuador on my last trip...)- we were all fairly annoyed that we could have walked into Chile but they wouldn't let us. In Tacna we just did shopping in their markets and then we took our bus from Tacna which was a 2o hour bus ride, back to Lima.

I was really happy that I was able to visit both of these towns because originally they were considerations of where I was supposed to go for my exchange. I enjoyed them both, (I liked Ilo a lot more), but I'm really happy that I'm in Lima. I'm more of a city girl who loves to visits small towns, not the other way around.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tourist and a Tour Guide

27th of January- 3rd of February

My mom and sister arrived late Thursday night, mom with a cold, Jasmine with a recently dyed section of blonde hair. During their stay we had an apartment in Miraflores, the fancy part of Lima. My mom brought me: more Luna bars than I could count, a jar of peanut butter, tortillas, cheddar cheese (three blocks!), bagels, green chile enchalada sauce, and my favorite organic hippie chips. None of these you can find in Peru or they're EXPENSIVE if you do (and not the same), so I was very happy.

On Friday I walked around with my mom in the morning while Jasmine slept (surprise). We then went to the grocery store to buy some breakfast food and we returned to make a huge meal. After lounging, we walked around some more with Jasmine and went to Kennedy Park, famous for its art scene, and cats everywhere. No squirrles, just cats. I took them to my favorite (and one of the few) coffee shop, La Maquina. Later that night we went to a folklore dance show that was hosted by my rotary club.

On Saturday I took them to my dance class: Marinera and Huaylarsh. They left me to walk around on their own and then I met up with them to go to the art museum. At night we went to the famous "pizza street" close to where we were staying, which in other words: restaurants who try to sell horrible Italian food, and the waiters follow and yell at you, trying to get you to go into their restaurant. Then there are the creepers who hit on the tourists, and one guy tried to follow my sister talking to her in Spanish. We didn't eat at these restaurants and instead we went to a fancy steakhouse and that was scrumptious!

Sunday we went to my current host families house to have breakfast. They served us traditional food, tamales (different than Mexico's), bread, onion salad, cheese, pork, sweet potatoes, (you usually put them together to make a sandwhich) coffee and juice. My mom loved it, my sister not so much. I played translator, which was kind of fun but a little stressful when everyone would talk at once and it felt frantic... but I think I did a good job. We were supposed to eat lunch with my former host family but they canceled, so instead we went to the zoo. It's probably the biggest zoo I've ever been too and we were miserable walking around since it took us a long time to get past the kids section to see the animals. I was also agitated with the amount of ignorant people (adults and kids alike) who were leaning over the ledges to pet the animals and intentionally throwing their food and bottles into the monkey cages to watch them try to eat it. It was the worst zoo that I've been to in terms of management and caring for the animals, which is a shame because they had some really neat ones.

Monday we took a cab to Pachacamac but it was closed and in the end wasted 80 soles to get there and back... we returned to go downtown to the cathedral and the catacombs. We had lunch and then went to a monastery. Just like the zoo, there were people who were touching things that they shouldn't. In the catacombs, people were reaching over the ledges to touch the thousands of bones. I can't even imagine all of the people who have stolen things because of the poor way of protecting the artifacts in the various buildings we went in. When we returned back to our apartment, my mom made me one of my favorite dishes from before Peru, tater tot casserole! It tasted mainly like the real thing, but we had to make some adjustments based on ingredients. I was very happy. Also, every night during their stay, we played some card game which I loved.

Tuesday we went back out to Pachacamac which is a ruin with temples and everything! We walked the whole way (most people drived around) which we estimated it to being 3 miles long. This site is estimated at being created in 200 A.D. Anyway, they're still working on excavating it but what they have now is incredible! They also had a museum full of the various jewelry, pottery, clothing and other artifacts they've found. It took us a couple of hours and we went straight to a restaurant on the beach when we returned, Rustica. I took them there because it has a buffet with the most popular Peruvian food. My mom enjoyed it, my sister didn't. Jasmine didn't like any of the Peruvian food from the whole trip, not even the desserts! Later that night, me and my mom went out to eat dinner and see a movie while Jasmine chilled in the apartment.

Wednesday we went to the National Museum and there we saw a REALLY intense exhibit on the conflicts between the government and the shinning path from the 1980's-1990's. After this museum we went to the inquisition/government building and learned about their old methods of torture and so on- it was incredibly boring, but the wax figures displaying the history was interesting. We were also allowed to enter the dungeons that they used to use. That night I invited some of my close exchange friends over to have dinner with my mom and sister and play games. We ate our Peruvian attempt at Mexican food, which was delicious with my cheddar cheese and tortillas.

Thursday was our last day. We packed and did a little bit of tourist shopping, ate food and hung out until it was time for them to catch their flight. It was easy to say goodbye to them, partially as by the end of the week, I was tired of being translator, tour guide (no offense ma) and I had lots of things to do. I had to pick up my life again, I didn't want more vacation time. The other part was that I had already been away from home for 5 months, another 5 seemed easy. I felt so grown up waving goodbye and walking away to go "home", unlike when I was leaving Colorado when I felt so... well, lots of things, but not like this time. I enjoyed having them and showing them my current life style because a blog and pictures simply just doesn't serve my experience justice. It was the best week that I've had with my sister since middle school and that was fantastic! What's kind of funny is the fact that this was the most touristy (I haven't been to most of the places that we went) I've been since in Peru and I'm more than half way through my exchange. Even though I was being a tourist, I was also being their tour guide and translator... it was a nice balance.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Trip to the most northern part of Peru, the small Tumbes and the surrounding areas, January 9th through the 21st. I traveled alone with two other exchange students, Savannah and Chelan.

*We were completely on our own for our food, transportation and even toilet paper. Though I'm used to budgeting my own money and cooking for myself, it was a first for my fellow travelers. In total we spent 322.50 soles for the 12 days on the food, split that by three that's 107.50 a piece which in dollars is 39.81. We felt accomplished at the end of the trip. Equally speaking though, this was the most independent trip that any of us have been on and we soaked it up!

*Zorritos is a beach town that is a hot spot, just a 25 minute hot and sticky bus ride away from Tumbes. We ended up going about three different times due to its picture postcard appearance: white sand, sunny skies, blue ocean, and handmade umbrellas made from palm leaves. This is the first beach that I've been to where the water was actually warm. During one of the visits, I managed to flirt with a hot surfer boy, all in Spanish of course.

*Puerto Pizzaro: A famous fishing spot, where a river deposits its fresh water right in front of the ocean to create a unique mixture of salt and fresh water. There are lots of islands, many of them were just compounds of sand but entirely covered in manglores, a famous plant in this region which are very branchy from the roots and end up looking like huge, lush, green bushes. We took a boat tour through the islands, stopped at a crocodile refugee camp then ate ceviche on a different island. This area was also famous for its diversity in birds.

*Moncora: one of the nicest beaches in all of Peru that always has many travelers from other parts of South America. We spent a night there in a cheap hostel, soaked up the hippie scene (there were more hippie travelers than Peruvians), shopped, went swimming for hours (also had fun on boogie boards, and near death experiences), got hippie braids in our hair, Chelan and I had 1am fun that included hanging out with Argentinian hippies around a campfire and listening to them play their instruments.

* Cabeza de vaca is an archeological site in Tumbes. We had permission to walk around by ourselves in the closed off area, and then a man gave us a tour of the many holes, and told us: it was a temple recently discovered in 2004 and as of now, they found a necklace in one of their holes and in another weapons like ninja stars. We observed red paint on some broken walls and walked by many lizzards. He let us climb down into the holes on fragile ladders, one hole was even a story deep!

On our way back to the center of Tumbes, a mototaxi full of teenage boys came whizzing around the corner and started pegging us with water balloons- it was quite a sight: 3 girls running around screaming and laughing, while people in their front yards laughed hysterically and the mototaxi went up and down the street chasing us! It came back 3 times! It was rather amusing.

This is a norm during the January and February months in all of Peru, it's called carnivales which basically permits anyone (mainly young boys, teenage boys or grown men) to throw water balloons at anyone passing by. I couldn't tell you how many times we were attacked by water balloons in Tumbes, don't worry, most of them missed us. We were special targets since we looked like "gringos"...

* We went camping at Cerros de Amotape after receiving government permission to camp. We borrowed a tent from the president of the town with less than a hundred people, but we didn't have any other camping gear... there were constant goats, pigs, chickens and donkeys that surrounded our tent. Unfortunately I can't say much about the hikes because I didn't go on any because I was sick- but it was a lush beautiful area with a brown river that passed through, home to many crocs.

* We got covered in mud at the Hervideros about half an hour from Tumbes, famous for its healing powers... it was just as much of an adventure to get to the mud baths as it was to be rolling around in the mud, slipping and slidding in and out of the various baths (shock and dismay: I slipped and hit the cobblestone pavement when I got out of one, good laughs). Our teenage mototaxi driver almost got us lost (it was out of the city in the middle of nowhere) and half way there he stopped and declared that he was almost out of gas.

* On our last night we made chocolate chip cookies (and extra cookie dough for us) as a thank you gift for letting us stay in their house, the little girls loved them. These girls were absolutely devastated that we had to leave as we were their excitement for the 12 days.

*Ecuador was only twenty minutes from where we were staying and we had permission to cross the boarder but not go far enough in that we would need our passports. We went to the small town that stretched out into both of the countries, Huaquillas, to walk around and look at the market. We ended up going to Ecuador twice because we got a little disoriented in the market and ended back up in Peru, so we went back to Ecuador! That's right, I went to Ecuador twice within an hour. We bought ice cream (with dollars, how weird!) and sat in their town plaza before returning to Peru.

*Lots of creepy men... many followed us a little bit and countless yelled at us. One even tried to give us a ride back to our city... but we made good encounters with others which made up for it, like a cute old man at a bread shop that we frequently visited. The harassment was worse in Tumbes than in Lima, I think it's because Tumbes doesn't receive as many white visitors.

* A twenty something year old tried to steal my friend's camera, it was scary. He must have seen her taking pictures earlier with it so got ahead of us and waited until we walked by (we appeared to be even weaker targets since we were in flip flops and summer dresses). She put her bag in a blue camera but was carrying that out in the open. To his surprise and our relief, he couldn't steal it and no one got hurt- at one point they ended up on the ground because Savannah (thata girl!) wouldn't let go of her camera. After he realized it was a lost battle, probably the moment when me and Chelan turned around to start hitting him and all of us were screaming, he got off the ground and ran into a near by mototaxi that was waiting for him.

*Savannah and I got food poisoning. My second big trip in Peru and both times I've gotten food poisoning... the food that made us waste a full day to illness: churros. Because deep fried dough covered in sugar wasn't bad enough...

*Directly after food poisoning, I got a cold. That's not really a surprise that I'd have a cold, now is it?

Monday, January 3, 2011

My Peruvian Holidays

Christmas snuck up on me... I think it's because I never had the Christmas spirit. Not because I've been homesick or any other less than positive reason, it was simply just because it didn't feel like the Christmas season, my Christmas season. It has been hot and sunny 98% of the time, there are less Christmas lights and decorations, less commercials and movies on TV that were Christmas-y, no chocolate covered pretzels, peppermint bark, or fudge and perhaps most of all: hardly any Christmas music. So, because of the lack of my traditional surroundings, it didn't feel like Christmas.

In Peru, everyone celebrates Christmas on the Eve, more than the day itself. Before me and my immediate family joined the bigger group at my Grandmother's house, we opened our Christmas presents and had a glass of champagne accompanied from a toast from by my dad and then me. I basically stated that even though I was away from my real family from the United states, I was more than happy to be sharing my first Christmas away from home with them and thanked them for including me in their activities. I received several books, cds, jewelry, too many chocolate bars (don't ask if I still have them), a t shirt, a Peruvian nativity scene and other random small things. I loved all of my gifts. The highlights of what I gave to my family was a princess barbie doll set to my niece who LOVED it, and a photo album with pictures of the last 5 months of my life in Peru with a story line and captions for my host parents- my mom cried and exclaimed, "Que preciosa! Eres muy inteligente" (how precious, you are very smart)... to summarize it. Then she brought it to the family get together for everyone else to look at.
As midnight approached in my grandma's house, we set the table and got baby Jesus to put promptly in his crib when it was time. My host brother that is now in New York for his exchange was skyping with my family and fire works started to go off. When it was midnight, everyone went around kissing each other and shouting, "FELIZ NAVIDAD" (Merry Christmas) because the fireworks outside were so abundant that it was hard to hear. Baby Jesus was put in his crib and we sat down to eat our pork, potatoes and salads. The party stopped around 3am so people could sleep, but then was picked back up at noon on Christmas which carried out until 6pm. I don't think I've ever had such a hot Christmas before, I've never seen the baby Jesus nativity thing in action, I've never had fireworks for Christmas, and this is my first time being able to open all of my presents on Christmas eve (a childhood dream now accomplished).

On New Years eve my family hosted a party, also because the 1st is my Dad's birthday. We at late at night (more pork, pasta salad and potatoes), and casually socialized for the following hour until midnight. 10 minutes 'till midnight and everyone became scattered as people tried to gather all of the ingredients for the various traditions to conduct. As the last minutes of 2010 passed, more fireworks started to go off... I wondered how much of it was from people having different times on their clocks. To start off the new year, I put on my superwoman cape- yes, I really did bring it all the way from the United States. I have been waiting for the right moment to bust it out, and I decided that it was then; I wanted it to be known by everyone that I was a superwoman and that's how I wanted my new year to start off with.
The first tradition: run around the block with a suitcase to bring good travels. This was difficult, running in heels on broken side walks and rolling a big suitcase behind while trying to dodge people. It was also fairly scary to run so close to all of the fireworks that were being set off dangerously in the streets (including the bonfires in the middle of the roads and in parks). After returning, we (me, another exchange student, and my host mom and grandma) took a glass of champagne and gave everyone kisses. Second tradition: take 70 cents and do the cross blessing thing 3 times and then toss the money behind your shoulder without looking back at it, this was to bring luck financially. Third tradition: eat 12 grapes because each grape represented a wish for each month of the new year that would come true. Fourth tradition: drink half a glass of champagne and then throw out the rest behind your back for good luck. Fifth tradition: carry around lentils, rice and a kind of wheat in your pockets to carry good luck with you into the new year. Sixth tradition: wear yellow, because not only is it a beautiful color, it's lucky. Another tradition that I didn't do, but my host dad did (not sure why I wasn't given the opportunity), was to bathe with water that was boiled with different types of flowers- again, for good luck.
After all of the midnight traditions, the family returned inside to drink, dance, and enjoy each others company and at some point we ate cake for my dad's birthday... Close to sunrise, there was about 15 minutes of playing 80's music and somehow people designated me to stay in the center of the room while people took turns dancing with me... I WASN'T EVEN ALIVE DURING THE 80'S and yet I was teaching people who were, how to dance to its music! Ridiculous, but lots of fun. I didn't go to bed until 8:3oam, making a new record (my previous one was set at 7am from my prom) and the best part is that the old folks stayed up longer than I did! Also, when I woke up at 4pm, they were already up and drinking again. I'm glad to say that since then, my sleep schedule is MESSED up, I have practically become nocturnal.

In summary, I've had better Christmases, but this was the best New Years I've ever had. I'm looking forward to merging my old customs with the new ones I've experienced in Peru, to make an unbeatable forthcoming new year.

Goodbye Tacky Uniform...

First two weeks of December

...Hello summer vacation. It's a bitter sweet ending because there were things that I had a hard time going along with: the academic assessment based mainly on test taking, staying in one class room all day- sometimes up to 3 consecutive hours sitting in the same seat, no field trips, using text books and lecturing as the method of teaching, "gay" and "black" thrown around as insults between the students, excruciatingly long and boring homework assignments which were frequent, and let's not forget about those tacky uniforms. These are just mentioning the bigger points, but along with the less favorable qualities that I was submerged in for 5 months, there were also the qualities that I absolutely loved: socializing and learning about the culture, having Spanish lessons with Grecia almost everyday, randomly learning facts as I started to learn more of the language, play fighting with the other students in the few moments we had to be rambunctious, loud, and ridiculous and then rushing back to our seats to sit in silence when the next teacher walked in, and having some of the typical high school experiences that I missed out on such as the olympics (to summarize all of the sports and competitions), prom, and a big fancy graduation. Don't worry, I still prefer my graduation from P.S.1 as it was shorter and more personal.

The last couple weeks of school were just exams, grading, and the two big events of the year: graduation and prom. Oddly, graduation came before our two weeks of finals and finishing school...

Prom: I did have a date, another exchange student- his name is Jeff and he's from Canada. A swell fellow and I was glad I brought him to my prom. My girl friends from school were all over him and made remarks like "if you don't kiss him, I will". Woah now ladies, calm yourselves. There was no kissing. I brought a couple other exchange students as well: Sofiane (France), Chelan (Washington), and Savannah (Oregon). It was a blast, despite the food being a bland attempt of something American... but we danced until 3am, then returned to my house for an after party and didn't go to bed until 7am.
Graduation: Ugly caps and gowns (I don't know which is worse... graduation gown or school uniform), 3 hours long, lots of talking, 120 students... but it was also nice; it was in a newly constructed theater and I received my yearbook, several photos, and a medal. I went out to a Chinese restaurant with my parents and Savannah afterward.

Finals: These two weeks were my 2nd set of finals in my life (1st being last trimester here), but the 1st that I actually tried and studied for because I felt confident that I had enough Spanish to show that I did learn (and already knew) some things. I took 19 classes this trimester and went from averaging 5 points or lower (out of 20), and now about 1/2 of them are passing- higher than 11 points. I have a handful of exams where I have 17 and I even scored some higher than some of the other students in my class! My overall grade for all of my classes, 13.64 (technically passing, but still not a pretty score), is not even the lowest grade in my class... how sad.

One of the most valuable skills that I feel that I was able to practice by attending this school, was test taking- a skill I hardly practiced at my old school because there weren't as many tests. The finals I'll take in college will hopefully feel easier since I won't have to translate content back and forth between two languages (imagine all of the time I'll save!) and try to memorize Spanish vocabulary that I might never use again.

It was sad to see everyone say goodbye to each other on the last day of school, after all the majority of these students have been in the same class since grade school. While students were crying and taking pictures, I just stood back and observed, while saying goodbye to passing students that I knew. For the most part though, I didn't feel the same feelings as them- I was sad to say goodbye to my close friends, but I didn't have any type of connection like what I had with P.S. 1 so comparatively, goodbye was easy. Besides, I have another 6 months to hang out with them, but when the end comes, I know it might even be harder to say goodbye than when I left to come to Peru. Saying goodbye takes practice; the first several times are really hard, but then one figures out how to make it more meaningful, or easier, or simply acceptable. I got a lot of practice right before I came to Peru, so I think I can say that I'm better at accepting change because essentially, that's what a lot of "goodbye" means: change.

Now I'm on summer vacation, which I'm enjoying every second of because it is a well deserved break after all of the late night cramming for two weeks in a row. In March I'll go to a university, but I don't know which one yet or how that will work out... I'm hoping that I won't have to wear another tacky uniform.