Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lake Titicaca: Days 1 and 2

Warning: This post may be a little lengthy, considering I just had the BEST weekend of all time.

Without knowing anything or planning anything whatsoever, my friends Sunni, Rachel, Nicole, and I decided to head out to Puno (ie Lake Titicaca) for the weekend.

Day 1:

All of the buses to Puno leave from Cusco around 10 PM and get in around 4-5 AM, so we left Ollanta around 7:30 to get there on time. Since we were running a little late, we tracked down the only "taxi" driver we could find (sidenote: taxis are more like random men that happen to own cars.) Midway through the taxi ride, he asks if we would like to take a "short cut" through the valley. Seeing as we were running a little late, we agreed. Turns out this "short cut" is entirely composed of dirt roads in the middle of nowhere. For the first 30 minutes, we were all convinced he was taking us somewhere either to rob us or kill us since none of us had ever taken that route to Cusco.

Luckily, after a very turbulent ride, we survived and made our way to the Cusco bus station - which was absolutely packed. All of the buses were sold out except for one teensy local bus company, so we snagged the last few seats and waited for our 10 PM departure. After initially getting on the wrong bus, we re-checked out tickets only to find out that this bus did not leave at 10, it left at 11:30. For an hour and a half, we essentially ate our dinner of Doritos and drinkable yogurt and sang songs until we were delirious.

Oh, y'know, just taking a picture in front of the wrong bus.

When the bus finally pulled up, we realized that we did not have the bed seats, we had the regular upright seats located next to an entire group of loud Peruvian high school students. We had it pretty good though, considering that there were people on this bus without seats, just chillin in the aisle for 7 hours. One Peruvian woman actually fell asleep on Nicole's lap. Needless to say, we were very thankful when we finally arrived in Puno.

Day 2:

We arrive in Puno at 8 AM with nowhere to stay and no idea where we were. After walking around the plaza searching for food and/or lodging, we stumble upon a hole-in-the-wall hostel known as "Titikaka Backpackers." Antioneta, the owner of the hostel, may have been the nicest and sweetest person I have ever met. As soon as we got there, she made us breakfast, gave us a guidebook, and told us what to do to get a tour of the Titicaca islands. She even offered to wash our underwear for us, to which we politely declined.

After a nap that felt like an eternity, we hit the streets to find some food. Again, we stumbled upon a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that was sooo cheap and sooo good. I believe my sandwich was 3 soles, which translates to less than a dollar - yesssss. We explored the city for a little while and spent wayyyy too much time booking our tour for the next 2 days.

Four terraces for four girls - let's take a picture!

After walking through the market in Puno, dodging men with loudspeakers trying to sell us mangos and papayas, we decided to get back to the hostel the fun way...

...Via bike taxi! We giggled like 5 year old girls the entire way back.

Before we knew it, it was time to eat again! The lady at the hostel recommended a fish place nearby, so we went to grab some trout and kingfish ceviche yummmm.

Did I mention that we all ordered the exact same thing?

They also had a spectacular dance show the entire time which I cannot even begin to describe. There were 4 dancers that performed about 10 dances, each from a different region from Peru and each in traditional costume. The finale with the condor costumes was absolutely amazing.

After scarfing down some cheesecake and peculiar Peruvian cocktails, we hit up another bar before heading to the CASINO. Yes, we found a casino in Peru. And guesss who won big money?? Yours truly! I didn't really understand the premise of the game and it is all in Spanish, but somehow I won 10 big ones (soles, that is).

We're smiling so much because a cute guy was also taking our picture from a second floor window.

Our tour the next day began at 6:45 AM, so we turned in for the night after the casino. Of course, Antioneta, the sweetest person of all time, had hot tea waiting for us when we got home.

To be continued...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Uneventful Events

Yesterday was the most exciting uneventful day I've had in Ollanta. Why, you may ask?

  1. I learned how to wash my laundry by hand like a big girl. My 23 year old host sister had to show me all the different steps (believe me, there's more than you'd think). THREE HOURS later I finally finished my giant load of laundry, and I vowed to never complain about having to do laundry in the states again. Sidenote: I hung my laundry on the roof to dry. 15 minutes later, it started raining. It's been raining just frequent enough that my clothes cannot fully dry. I think somebody just wants me to smell.
  2. My host mom made RICE PILAF. I am NOT kidding. (For those of you that do not know, my mom's rice pilaf is my favorite food and I always force feed it to my family on the holidays.) She put lunch on the table and I looked at it speculatively, thinking "NOOO, it couldn't be...". I tried a bite and almost cried. I told my host mom that this is my favorite food - she was a little less enthused.
  3. I got a mirror "installed" in my room (ie nailed to the wall). I think my family finally started feeling sorry for me when they saw my poor excuse for make-up on the weekends.
Today I had an all-day training in community assessment - entirely in Spanish. I got most of it which was pretty awesome, although the information was a little different than what I expected. Lucky me, I get to go back and do the exact same thing tomorrow!

For my home visits, I've been working with Paulino a lot. He's a 52 year old stroke victim that has lost the use of his entire left side. Since I work with him 3 days a week, I thought he deserved a cute little cameo in my blog.

Just 2 peas in a pod, no biggie

This weekend a few of my friends are leaving Ollanta for good, so we're all going to Cusco for a fun night out (and perhaps a visit to the black market). If anybody wants a $10 copy of Photoshop, let me know! :-)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Trick Yourself Into the Best Shape of Your Life

Oh y'know, just me being athletic and stuff.

Step 1: Move to a remote Andean village at an altitude of 9,160 feet.

Step 2: Live there for a month, wheezing your way through light to moderate physical activity.

Step 3: Contract every stomach bug known to man so you have no choice but to avoid the high-fat, high-rice Peruvian diet.

Step 4: Go for "a run" that looks something like this:
Substep 1: Walk the entire way to a remote destination so that "the locals don't think you're weird." Keep in mind that you're really doing this to postpone running as long as possible.
Substep 2: Find the perfect little road/trail and start running.
Substep 3: 30 seconds later, stop running and start wheezing out of your mind.
Substep 4: Repeat above, with walking breaks of about 5 minutes in between, until you get to a really difficult hill.
Substep 5: Stop at said hill to "take in the view." Decide this is the perfect place to turn around.
Substep 6: Run all the way down the hill (with some flats in between) so you feel like an accomplished runner by the time you get all the way down.
Substep 7: Walk when you get back into town. You don't need any more awkward stares than you already get on a daily basis.

Step 5: Attempt to do the strength routine in the outdated issue of Glamour that you bought to read on the plane and haven't touched in a month. Decide that 1 set, instead of the recommended 3, is more than enough (especially with your squeaky floor on the 2nd floor, you don't want your downstairs neighbors thinking your seizing).

Step 6: Repeat for the remaining 6 weeks of your trip. (HAHAHHHAHAA)

Step 7: Move back to sea level and VOILA! you're in the best shape of your life!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Patacancha for the day

This week has been pretty low key. My trip to Patacancha, a weaving community about an hours drive away, was probably the highlight of the week.

This weekend the health program kicked off our first mobile clinic. About 8 of our staff members are currently riding horses between tiny communities in the Sacred Valley, delivering medical supplies and offering free doctor visits. I (thankfully) was only necessary for one day, where I helped feed the patients and dispensed fluoride treatments to the local schools and some of the visiting patients.

Unfortunately, due to the extremely high altitude (12,000 feet!) I wasn't feeling my best. The ride up and back down was probably the hardest thing I've had to do, as I had to convince myself that I wasn't going to vomit for about an hour. Even though we went by car, the "road" was extremely bumpy and felt like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland.

Luckily, I survived. That night, I ended up in my bed at 6:30 PM watching movies before sleeping in until 11 AM the next day.

As a result, I've decided to have a relatively low key weekend lounging around in Ollanta. If I end up having any exciting adventures, you will be the first to know! :-)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Feliz Dia de los Muertos!

Hola everyone! As if we haven't had enough holidays recently, today is el Dia de los Muertos. I filled my day eating tamales (they have vegetarian ones here - amazing!), watching my family cook an entire pig, and doing my Spanish homework. I have never been so popular as when I was doing my Spanish homework - I literally had a crowd of people (maybe 5 or 6) standing over me wanting to know what I was learning.

Even though last night was Halloween and people actually celebrate it here, I decided to stay in. I had a veryyy eventful weekend with Ollantaytambo's anniversary celebrations. On Friday night, my friends and I walked into the plaza to discover a huge crowd of people surrounded by cases upon cases of beer for sale. There was a rotation of Peruvian bands on the giant stage, and I made it a personal goal to get on stage by the end of the festival. Welll guessss what...

Dancing with the lead singers! (yes, I made sure my friends had my camera before going on stage)

And believe it or not, it only took a few tries to get up there! Yes, the stage was guarded by a police officer, but I was able to overcome said obstacle by ruthlessly flirting with a guitar player from the dance floor below. Mission: Completed.

The next night we headed to the Blue Puppy (an overly touristy restaurant) for some veggie burgers and mojitos before once again checking out the plaza. This night was similar to the one prior, except that it was pouring rain. I couldn't think of another opportunity I've ever had to dance in the rain to a Peruvian band, so my friends and I went to town.


At least until we got sufficiently drenched and had to flee the scene.

The next day was the bull fight which was surprisingly different than any other bull fight I've seen. Unlike Spanish bull fights, Peruvians don't actually kill or hurt the bulls (other than frustrating and exhausting them). Plus, you have the added entertainment of the drunk Peruvian men jumping into the ring to give it a go (one of which was my friend Carlo, although he was one of the more successful ones). One said borracho (drunk) pissed the bullfighters off so much that the leader of the municipality (dressed in a clown suit, don't ask me why), got into a brawl with him. I think I can safely say that the humans were harmed more than the bulls themselves.

I forgot to mention that these "bulls" were incredibly tiny. This fool in the blue was trampled about 5 seconds after this picture was taken. He survived but his pride did not.

So, as you can see, after all that excitement I was less than ready to gear up for a Halloween bash. Hopefully I'll have a fairly tame week to recover from all of the excitement. Tomorrow the health program is going to Cusco for "family time" and on Thursday we head up to Patacancha for a Health Day. Patacancha is one of our weaving communities about an hour away from Ollanta. I'm told to prepare for rain, cold, or snow (!) so I think I'll be wearing pretty much everything I own.

Till next time!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Salt Flats and Rainbows

My friends and I have made it a tradition to try to go somewhere different every weekend. This past weekend, it was Salineras - the salt flats about 30 minutes away.

When you try to go somewhere in Peru, you never have an address or an exit to go by. You get word-of-mouth directions using random landmarks. This time our directions were as follows: "Head to Urubamba, but don't go all the way there. When you see the rainbow hostel, you're in the right place." Mind you, the Inca flag is a rainbow, and it's absolutely impossible to differentiate the real rainbow hostel from the imposters.

As we were Combi-ing along, we all started thinking that maybe we had gone too far. We were almost at Urubamba when somebody shouted "RAINBOW!" and all seven of us, in unison, yell "BAJA!" (Which is what you say to get the Combi to stop and let you off). Every Peruvian on that combi was either staring at us or laughing at us uncontrollably.

When we got off and realized that we were probably at the wrong rainbow hostel, we asked some random Quechua lady on the side of the road for directions. She told us we had to walk for a half an hour. Instead of doing thattt, we went the lazy route and hopped on a moto (basically a motorcycle with 3 wheels and barely enough room for 3 people) and headed to the actual rainbow hostel. Of course, when we got off the moto, we were incredibly gringo-ed by the driver, who charged us 2 soles per person when it really should have been 50 centimos. Lesson #234890: Always negotiate the price before hopping in your preferred method of transportation.


After wheezing my way to the top of the salt flats, we had an incredible view that seemed to go on and on and on. I'd say it was definitely worth the 2 soles.

Salineras! (Yes, that is all salt)

Later that night we had "family dinner" at the volunteer house, where my friends Sunni and Kate attempted (and succeeded) to make their own Pisco Sours. (Pisco + raw egg whites + a million limes + simple syrup + ice)

Sunni flaunting her new pisco-souresque purchases at the market

Sunday night we hit up The Albergue, the fanciest restaurant in town. Awamaki volunteers not only get a discount on their food, but they can also use the sauna for free afterwards. SO perfect.

This coming weekend is the Aniversario of Ollantaytambo. What does that mean, exactly? Parties every night (and most days) from this Thursday until Tuesday. Awamaki will even be marching in a parade on Saturday morning (including Yours Truly!) Looks like my next blog post will be muchhhh much more interesting.

P.S. Today is my 4 week mark in Ollanta! So glad I'm here :-)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Never wear leather boots in Cusco

El Foto del Dia - Mi familia!
From the left: Samira (age 8), Alex (age 15 mo.), Analy (age 15)

On Saturday I went to Cusco with some friends for the day. We indulged in our American favorites - sandwiches, ice cream, and nail polish remover. A few lessons I learned from the day:

  1. Never wear leather boots in Cusco (or any other large city for that matter) - I had little boys following me around all day offering to shine my shoes. It was one of those times that I really wish I knew how to say "My boots are not supposed to be shiny!" in Spanish. I'll come better equipped next time.
  2. NEVER sit on the aisle on the bus - We took a combi to Urubamba (a city about 30 minutes away) and then a bus to Cusco. What I didn't realize is that they sell tickets beyond the number of seats. That's right kids, the aisles are chock full of people, most of which don't smell very good. On our way back from Cusco, I spent about 2 hours staring at this man's beer belly which, actually was the best part of the trip. I spent the rest of the time smushed by large women's backsides and their hair grazing my face. I could think of nothing but the longggg, necessary shower I was going to take when I went home.
  3. Avoid the meat section in the market - I applaud Peru's use of the entire animal upon butchering, but do you really need to sell cow faces at the market?
Today I spent about 2 hours eating with my family, and had a few interesting experiences. We were listening to the radio at the table, and all of a sudden Justin Beiber's "Baby" came on. Everybody in my house started singing along, but kept asking me to translate his poetic words. Conversely, when a friend and I mentioned that Mick Jagger may be in town, they had NO idea who the Rolling Stones were. I had no idea that Beiber Fever was so widespread.

New adventures in food: Beer + Coca Cola. I gave them this weird look and then tried it - surprisingly delicious. Of course, I like the taste of plain ol' beer more, but for those that don't like hoppiness it provides a sweet little flavor.

This week I'll just be doing most of the same stuff - volunteering, going to meetings, etc. There's supposedly an online fundraiser on Wednesday morning where I will be begging my friends to donate (and drinking beer in the process), so if you feel like being cheap, I suggest that you avoid the internet at all costs. If you feel like NOT being a cheapskate, come share a little love and money with your favorite Awamaki volunteer :-)

Next weekend I may be going horseback riding (!!!) I don't think I've been since Girl Scout horse camp when I was like 10. Hopefully it comes back to me faster than my Spanish did (not)...