Reflections on the Week

Written Oct.19

I used this week to rest up before my big trip to Arequipa. Tuesday I went and taught how to make bracelets to the volunteers in their meeting and then had a nice evening at the school’s residence making and eating pancakes with some of my friends from Holland. I found out that in Holland they sprinkle their pancakes with sugar instead of pouring syrup on them. We put bacon, cheese, and apples in our pancakes as desired. It was nice to help with the cooking because at home I’m not really allowed to do anything with the food but eat it.

Last night (Thursday) I met up with three friends and we went to a mexican restaurant. Oddly enough we were all American, which almost never happens because most of the students in the school are European. After that I came home to study for my last Literature exam, which I took this morning. Being down here is finally teaching me how to study because with this material I need more than a quick review the morning of the test. Since I started studying for the tests, my grades have definitely gone up. We have been reading short stories and analyzing them- which is an amazing improvement over when I arrived. Nevertheless, I am definitely glad to have a week of vacation and a change in topic.

I will be spending my week of vacation in Chile. I will be taking a bus to Arequipa tonight and then down to Tacna and across the border! These are very long bus rides but I will have five of my friends with me so it won’t seem as long.

Recommended Trip (and assorted events before and after)

Friday marked the last day of my second week of Literature class, which brings me within two weeks of my vacation! Thankfully the class is not as intensive as Mrs. Rose’s but we do have a lot of names, works, and contents to memorize. The class is four hours a day, five days a week but the benefit of the non-grammer classes is that we get a field trip for half a day every Friday to reinforce the material. This week we went to a convent transformed into a museum and a gallery for a photographer from the early 1900’s (before the earthquake). There are so many little museums in Cusco but you really have to know where to find them. Also, there are generally two or three prices for tickets: Cusco native, Peru native, and foreigner. Being a foreigner doubles the prices on every entrance, but the school paid for these since it is part of our tuition.

Since Monday was a holiday, we had a three day weekend and three of my friends and I decided to go on a trip to the coast. We left Cusco by bus at 6 in the evening on Friday and had a 15 hour ride to Nazca. Saturday morning we dropped our stuff off in the tour office in Nazca and caught a ride to the airport. This was a very small airport with minimal security because it only did small flights over the Nazca lines and back. The Nazca lines are lines of rocks in the desert that form shapes like triangles, a monkey, a parrot, a dog, a spider, and a couple hundred others we did not see. The only thing that was different about the airport is that they weighed you when you checked in to determine your seat. The plane had just enough room for the pilot, the guide, and the four of us. I felt fine through take-off but I soon started to regret eating those fig newtons on the bus ride to the airport. I managed one picture but after that it was all I could do to keep my head on straight and focus on looking at the lines while the plane was turning. I made it all the way throught the tour but pretty much as soon as we finished looking at the lines I grabbed the bag from the chair in front of me and emptied my stomach. Once we got on the ground I bought a bottle of nice cold water and then took a little nap on the bus back to Nazca. While in Nazca we stopped at a little cafe for “breakfast” at noon. I had a delicious cheese omlette and that lasted me until supper. After breakfast we went to the bus terminal and caught a ride to Ica, which lasted a bit under 3 hours but didn’t feel like it because I had another nap. On our arrival in Ica, we went by these cute little motorcars with three wheels and steering like a motorcycle to the oasis of Huacachina (spelling uncertain) and checked into our hostel. The hostel was a pretty yellow building that backed right up into a huge sand dune with a lounge, a pool, a ping pong table, and two bars. As soon as we walked in we were approached about the party that night, which had beef, chicken, and all-you-can-eat salad, pasta, watermelon, and rolls. Drinks were also provided. Since it was only 25 soles we signed right up. We had an hour to wait until sand buggying/sand boarding at 4 so we freshened up a little and I read some in the book I brought along. Once the sand buggying got started, it was the best part of the entire trip. The buggy is like a roller coaster without a track and it was awesome! The best part is going down the steep side of dunes and the parts where we went up a steep slope and then turned around to go down it again. We stopped for pictures in the middle of the dunes but I didn’t get my camera out so I will be tagged in those in Facebook. We had another short segment in the buggy and then we got out to sand board down three hills. I tried sitting, laying on my stomach, and standing. I went first in the group on the big first hill and then twice each on the other two hills. Walking back up is the hard part. When I stood up to go down, I fell once halfway down the hill but I think I understand the mechanics of it better now- more weight on the back foot and don’t let it go broadside down the hill. After that we resumed our crazy-awesome buggy ride and had another photo stop above the oasis. This time I did get out my camera. The oasis was so beautiful but unfortunately the water is polluted. After we returned to the hostel I swam in the pool for an hour and then took a shower. The water was so refreshing after travel and sand and sun. At 7:30 the dinner party started and I proceeded to eat to my heart’s content. This was quite a lot since we didn’t really have lunch that day and the bartender commented that I eat more than he does. I met a couple from France, three guys from Lima, and a sandboarding instructor. The guys from Lima started out talking to us in English but then I said something in Spanish and they were really suprised that we spoke Spanish. I was the most Spanish-speaking person in our group so I spoke mostly Spanish while everyone else spoke mostly English. I also had a nice long conversation in Spanish with the sand boarding instructor about why I shouldn’t trust everyone I meet and why I was speaking Spanish so well after such a short stay in Peru. After that I went to bed, read some more of my book, went to sleep, and totally missed everyone coming in at 2 or 3 in the morning after the discotech party. Therefore, I was the most rested the next morning when we left the hostel at 7 and returned to Ica for breakfast.

Recommendations from Saturday:

  1. You can put yourself throught the plane ride but it is expensive and nauseating.
  2. Don’t eat before you go on the plane.
  3. If you go anywhere near the desert, go sand buggying/boarding. It is awesome.
  4. Hostels are great places to meet new people.

On Sunday we had breakfast in Ica close to the bus station at a place that specialized in juice. I had a pineapple juice and an egg sandwich. The juice came in a liter pitcher after it was blended in front of you (most of a blender full). Somehow I managed to drink all of it, I don’t know how, but it was more filling than I expected and suprisingly less expensive than the other juices. After that we had a fairly short bus ride to Pisco and then a taxi ride to Paracas, where we caught a boat tour of the Islas Ballestas (not the floating ones). The Islas Ballestas are part of a wildlife conservation effort to preserve the diversity in the rare cold ocean current environment. We saw seals, little penguins, guano birds, lots of pelicans, and some other birds as well.

Interesting side note: The expression “It ain’t worth shit” doesn’t apply there because the guano bird’s poo/guano/shit is what paid off the Peruvian foreign debt and is still being collected to this day to be used as fertilizer all over the world.

I found out again on the boat that turbulence is bad for me but I love speeding along with the wind in my hair and a bit of sea spray in my face. Just a bit though- any more sea spray gets really cold really fast. I love the sea but rocking back and forth in a boat is not my idea of fun. However, I did get lots of good pictures of the wildlife. Once we got back we had the whole afternoon off until our bus left at 10. We had lunch in Pisco and then went to the mummy museum in Ica. The museum had sections on several different indigenous empires, including the Incas, but focused more on the cultures by the coast. These cultures specialized in textiles and a good piece of cloth was considered more valuable than gold. Interestingly, there were pictures on the wall describing the Incan lifestyle from a book that I studied in my lit. class the week before. The mummies were in the last section of the museum with other skulls and objects of anthropological interest. Each culture had a different technique of head deformation used for easy identification while traveling. They also practiced head trephanation, which is a surgery where a piece of bone is taken out of the skull after a head trauma or illness. Now you just take out the excess brain fluid but they didn’t know about that then. Apparently some people actually survived the operation because some of the skulls showed signs of regrowth around the holes. The mummies were preserved in the fetal position and wrapped in seven layers of ornate cloth mantles. We saw one mantle with amazonian bird feathers and also a preserved parrot. If a baby or small child died, they were buried in a small jar. After the museum, we went to the main square in Ica, sat there for a while, and then went to a supermarket. I got some cheese and crackers for the long bus ride back. Afterwards we went to a Creole restaurant and I had their spaghetti alfredo. I still try to eat cheese every chance I get. It came with ham bits and it was enormous. When I was halfway done I thought “How on earth am I going to finish this?” Answer: take it slowly and give a bite to your friends. I did finish it, mostly because I knew that I had a monster bus ride coming up and wouldn’t be eating much the next day. After supper we sat around and talked for a while and eventually went to the bus station and sat there until our bus left at 10.

Recommendations from Sunday:

  1. Visit the Islas Ballestas.
  2. If you are interested in wine, spend some time in Pisco.
  3. Eat at some local places- but not the absolute cheapest. I’m surprised I didn’t get sick from the water in the juice from breakfast- I must be acclimating.
  4. The mummy museum is worth spending 10 soles on. Go there.

We had been told that the bus ride would be 18 hours but luckily it turned out to be only 16. Also, this bus was more comfortable than the one we took from Cusco. I fell asleep fairly quickly and didn’t wake up until we stopped for a bathroom break at 7 in the morning. Breakfast wasn’t much but I had my snacks along so I was fine. We arrived in Cusco a bit before 2 and since I was tired of sitting I just walked from the bus station home. That walk is shorter than my walk to school every day but it went through an area I didn’t know well so it seemed long. I got home in time to eat some lunch and then rested the remainder of the day.

I have classes in the afternoon this week but since it’s a short week I don’t mind so much. I prefer classes in the morning because it allows you to do stuff in the afternoon. It doesn’t seem worth it to go out in the morning, come back, and leave again directly after lunch. With morning classes, you never arrange stuff in the afternoon earlier than 4 and you stay out until 8. That way you get your break after lunch and eat out for supper because supper at home is bread and tea. It’s interesting that the locals here get sick if they eat much for supper but I need to eat or else I’m sick in the morning. Oh well, I guess it’s all in what you’re used to.