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.

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Interesting Weekend- Part 2

Saturday morning I woke up and felt fine so I decided to go white water rafting on the Urubamba river, as planned. Phil, the student next door, was also going so I waited outside for him for a few minutes but he had already left because he knew that I had been sick the night before. I actually wore shorts outside for the first time in Peru because I didn’t want to get my jeans wet. That was also my first time wearing a swimsuit in Peru. Anyways, when I arrived at the school I found out that Susanna was joining us rafting. Phil and I had both been rafting before but Susanna had not. We had about an hour bus ride to the river and since I was feeling a little queasy I just took a nap. When we arrived, we changed into wet suits and got back on the bus. Urubamba River is fed by the glacier on Ausangate Mountain and so wet suits were definitely necessary. Once we arrived to our put in point, we donned the windbreakers, life jackets, and helmets. We chose our boats and started training on the river! In our boat, we had six people and the guide: Phil, Susanna, Michael from Holland, a couple from Italy, and me. All told, we represented 5 different home countries and four different first languages. All directions were given in English. Once we finished training we started with progressively harder rapids, up to class 3. In the middle, we stopped at a rock to climb and jump off. Without (almost) second thoughts I climbed up the rock and proceeded to jump into freezing water. My first thought was “Cold!!” and my second was “What is the easiest/fastest way to get back into the boat?”, followed by “No, I can not touch the bottom here”. Once I was back in the boat we all talked about how frigid the water was and how glad we were to have wet suits on. After that, we went through the class three rapids and tried to surf on one of them. After that, the guides all tried to flip their boats on a rock but I think the river was too low. I was glad not to be back in the water. When we returned to the base camp, we peeled off the wet suits and went straight to the sauna. It was nice and warm- and then they came in with a bucket of water to steam it up a little. It was probably over 90 degrees Fahrenheit in there and it became a little hard to breathe. After that, I had a warm shower (luxury here) and then a warm lunch made by the family who lives at the base camp. As soon as I was done eating, most of the group went on a zip-line across the river and then back to the base camp. We collected our stuff, got back on the bus, and returned to Cusco. On the way, we stopped for ice cream at one of the many little stores in the villages and while it wasn’t homemade, it was just what I needed after a hard day of play. When we returned, I went home and rested. A couple of hours later, I realized that I had completely forgotten about one of my friend’s birthday party! By then it was too late so I just stayed home and apologized when I got to school on Monday. It was more of a drinking party anyways so I don’t know whether I would have had fun or not.

Sunday was my day of rest and I got to sleep in until 8:30. I finished a bracelet that I made for one friend and started another for a friend who is leaving on Wednesday. I finished that one today (Tuesday) and started on another for the friend whose party I missed. The other thing I did on Sunday was four more colors on the Achoo! cross stitch. Now the pads of the feet have color and it has a black nose, eyes, and spots. That kept me up until midnight and then I got up at 6:30 as normal for school.

Monday started my last week of grammar classes with the hardest teacher I’ve had so far. We had four students in the class again but as of today we have another student from Brazil. That fills the class as the maximum size is 5 students. Monday night I went to a salsa class at the salsa school with some friends and signed up for a total of 5 lessons. By the time I get home, I will practically be an expert! Or at least be able to dance well 🙂 After that we went out to eat at the same English restaurant as on Friday and I tried their Cottage Pie. It was awesome and it came with an excellent gravy. That satisfied my cheese longings for a moment. The great thing about this restaurant is that they have fresh mint tea. Just thinking about food makes me miss home a little so having something familiar is just what I needed. While I was talking to the taxi driver on the way home, he complimented me on my Spanish and that pretty much made my day. I’ve almost been here a month and I’ve learned a lot but sometimes it feels like I just arrived.

Today I came back to school in the afternoon and taught the volunteer group some origami. I am also going to make some decorations for the Dia del Estudiante (Day of the Student) festival that we are having on Friday. That’s all for now! I will try to write more than I have been for the last couple weeks because everything is better with details.

Interesting Weekend- Part 1

I definitely had an interesting weekend…
Thursday was yoga class- an interesting mix that I’ve never seen before. The purpose of the ~20 minutes of warm-up/stretching/exercise was to allow our bodies to relax for the next ten minutes. It was divine. All the instructions were in Spanish but that didn’t really matter. One person fell asleep on the little mat just laying there. Afterwards, I met up with Lena back at the school (~15 minute walk), we went to the bakery, walked 10 minutes to the supermercado, crossed two more streets to where we could catch the bus, and rode home.
Friday was very interesting for several reasons. I had a test in class, like always, but it was a little harder than normal. During break, I went over to the bakery and got a delicious cheese empanada, which they even heated up for me. I have been craving cheese pretty much since I got here since cheese is not so common every day. After classes Ashay, Phil, and I went to the “best” ceviche restaurant in Cusco. Ceviche is raw seafood in lemon juice. I had the Ceviche Mixto, which had fish, octopus, squid, and shrimp. It was served with corn, dried corn, two slices of sweet potato, and some lettuce to keep the corn out of the lemon juice. I really enjoyed it but I should have know from my previous experience with real sushi that raw fish and my digestive tract do not get along. After ceviche, we took a taxi back to the school since Phil had afternoon lessons. I showed Ashay where the bakery was and then I stayed at school until the group of us going to the Juanes concert met to go out to eat for supper. We went to an English restaurant and I only had waffles with ice cream since I had eaten almost all of a baguette (whole wheat!) from the bakery. After dinner I was rather stuffed, which did not help with the ceviche. We walked back to the school to meet up with Anna because she had to run her laundry home before the concert. After that we walked over to the concert, which was actually fairly close to the school. We got there as one of the pre-show bands was finishing, and then another band came on before Juanes. In the middle of that second band, my stomach was not feeling good and I told Ashay that I was going out of the middle of the crowd because I wasn’t feeling well. As soon as I said that, I felt like I was going to pass out but I dropped to my knees quickly and the feeling subsided. As Ashay was guiding me out of the crowd, I started feeling like I was going to throw up. Halfway to the edge of the crowd lunch, dinner, and who knows what else came up and out. I hope I didn’t hit anyone with it but I’m not certain that I didn’t. After that we moved to the edge of the crowd and I cleaned myself up a little. I was feeling a whole lot better since the food was out. Ashay stayed with me for the rest of the concert but we left a little early to beat the crowd. While we were still at the concert, there was a very nice dog that came and sat with us for a while. This was very welcome since it was quite chilly that night and the concert was outside.
In order to reduce the size of each post, I will write about the rest of the weekend in the following post. It should come out within a few days…

September 12

Pictures: if you want to see them, add me on Google Plus because they do not like to load on this site.
Last Friday I had a cooking class and I learned to make a dish with meat, onions, and tomato, seasoned with garlic, cumin, soy sauce, and salt. It’s easy to make but I wouldn’t want to do it on the stove at home because you have to have a fire in the pan and it would scorch the microwave. After that I went to see a concert by the Symphonic Orchestra of Cusco. The music was amazing and so was the soloist on cello. After the concert I hung out with some of my friends from school and had my first Inca Cola. It tastes like bubble gum but if that’s your thing you have to try it.
On Saturday I went on a city tour in the afternoon. We saw the cathedral, the Qorikancha, and Sacsayhuaman. The cathedral was very impressive and very imposing. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take pictures in there. The Qorikancha was partly demolished by the Spaniards and then they built a convent on top. The Qorikancha was an arrangement of temples to the sun, moon, stars, and rainbow among other things. Sacsayhuaman was the old head of the town when it was in the shape of a puma. It is very impressive and has the largest stone. We also visited three other Incan ruins in that area. One of them was the Fountain of Youth- and its source has never been found.
When we returned there was a huge parade for the Virgin Mary and it seemed like the whole town turned out to see it. There were dancers, marching bands, and people dressed as dragons and apes.
Sunday was the tour of the Sacred Valley- Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, and Tambomachay. I probably climbed a couple hundred stairs because the ruins are almost all on the side of mountains. We had a buffet lunch and I tried cuy (guinea pig), alpaca, and several other dishes. I think I would like cuy better if it was cooked differently- and someone told me which parts not to eat. The alpaca was marinated in a mustard sauce and while it was edible it was not enjoyable. I have never liked raw meat.
Monday I went to four museums with Lena ranging from native art to contemporary art, to the Qorikancha museum. They were all very interesting but a bit smaller than I’m used to.
Yesterday I went to the Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo, where I saw several native dances. They play the dance music with a violin but played like a fiddle (among other instruments).
Today I have another salsa class and then tomorrow we have a yoga class. I have made 6 bracelets since I arrived and I’m working on a seventh. I finished the fourth Sleeping Beauty panel in a week and now I’m working on the puppy (Achoo).

First Salsa Class

Lena and I went to salsa class today and we had a blast! We learned 6 basic steps and then started dancing with partners.

Classes have been going well and we have been talking about our family, our town, and today we talked about a book. I can finally read Gato con Botas (dreamworks version) and I’m going to try to read Sonador (the reader I brought with me) a bit at a time.

Lena and I have been walking to school with another student who lives next door. A group of three is definitely better in the city.

I’m going to upload some pictures eventually….

September 2

I finished my first week of classes on Thursday and had Friday off. I did really well on my test on Thursday- exactly how well I will find out on Monday. I have had a lot of free time to do bracelets and cross stitch- so far I finished the four panels of the Sleeping Beauty cross stitch, did three bracelets, started a fourth, and started working on the Achoo! (puppy) cross stitch again. As I start hanging out with friends more, the time for crafts will decrease.
We have a new student in the house- Magdalena from Holland. She doesn’t speak any Spanish yet but we can talk in English. She is one year older than me and is also doing a gap year before starting studies at a university.

August 29

Good news! I am getting over my altitude sickness. I haven’t really been able to eat much for the last few days and only tea and juice for breakfast. Today I was able to eat both the soup and some of the segundos (seconds) at lunch. This is a definite improvement over two days ago when I couldn’t even finish the soup.
My class has two people in it and we have our test of the week tomorrow. We have Friday off because Thursday is a holiday but the school decided to make it a long weekend instead. Unfortunately no one signed up for the salsa class so I’m going to an art show at the Temple of the Sun with a new friend instead.