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¡Al Fondo Hay Sitio! – La Cultura Combi

Time December 15th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

How is it possible that I leave tomorrow morning?  It feels like these last four months have flown by and I’m not sure if I’m ready to leave yet.  Lima just started to really feel like home, plus spring is here and I have to go back to blizzard conditions in Chicago… but I’ll be happy to get home to my friends and family for the holidays.

I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to take a adequate video of a combi ride, something that would capture what it’s like to travel on Lima’s makeshift public transportation system.  I have to say, there is nothing like a combi ride.  The combis developed out of necessity.  In the last few decades, Lima’s population has grown exponentially with many people from the sierra migrating to the coast and the outskirts of Lima.  These people needed a way to get from their homes to the more established areas of Lima and the government didn’t step in.  So, private enterprises took on the challenge.

The streets of Lima are covered in combis of 3 sizes: bus, micro and combi (these are the size of a full-size van).  There are 2 important people on a combi, the cobrador and the driver.  The cobrador takes your pasaje or fare.  He also yells out the door to let you know the combi’s route and lets the driver know when people want to get on and off.  There is no website where you can find the different routes of the combis, so the only way to find out is to ask a Peruvian.  The drivers tend to be pretty crazy, as it is in their best interest to pick up all the passengers before any of the other drivers can.  This leads to many terrifying combi races.  It also leads to absolutely packed combis.  For example, I ride a to La Católica on a route called the “S” which is comprised of the smallest combis.  Around 6pm, there are probably upwards of 20 people squished into those tiny things half of whom are standing, bent over.

Perhaps the best way to describe a combi ride is to got through the steps.  Plus, if you’re ever in Lima you can use these helpful tips.

1) Find a stop or paradero or just stick out your hand on any busy street and 10 will stop for you.

2) Either read the side of the combi or ask the cobrador to make sure that it goes where you’re going.  Usually if it doesn’t, the cobrador will tell you which one does.

3) Hop on before the driver speeds off.  The cobrador will encourage you and let the driver know to wait by saying “¡Sube sube sube!”  Hold on to something because when they do start moving you will go flying into someone’s lap if you’re not holding on.

4) Sit and enjoy the lovely 80s jams or salsa music that the driver has on full blast, the smell of gasoline and the sob stories of all the vendors who climb on board to sell you hard candies.  Hold on tight to your belongings and be careful not to bang your head on the seat in front of you when the driver stops.  If your standing, you have to keep your balance.  The cobrador will also probably yell “Avanza por favor, al fondo hay sitio.” which means that there is room at the back.  There is never room at the back.

5) The cobrador will come down the aisle clinking his change and asking for pasajes.  You pay him, usually 1 sol and he gives you a ticket that lets him know you paid and gets you your money back in case the combi crashes.

6) When you want to get off, you let the cobrador know by saying “¡(Insert your stop here) baja!”  For example, “¡Paradero baja!” or “¡Esquina baja!”  The cobrador repeats this to the driver and you must squish through the people to get to the door in time for your stop.  The cobrador will let the driver know to stay put by shouting “¡Baja baja baja!” but you should hop off quickly because they will start moving…

It’s a crazy way to get around but it’s cheap and convenient.  In some ways, I will miss my crazy combi rides.  I remember being scared to get on them in August, but now I find them easy and feel comfortable getting around by combi.

My bags are packed and goodbyes are said and I’m feeling so many different things at once.  I hope one day I can come back to Lima and to my wonderful host family.  It has truly been a once in a lifetime experience.

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Peruvian cuisine: The good, the bad and the cuy

Time November 29th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

FELIZ DIA DE ACCION DE GRACIAS!  and happy Thanksgiving to all my gringitos.  Although they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in Peru, we are having our own dinner in the IFSA office.  I’m in charge of the pumpkin pie.  Since Thanksgiving is the day in which we gather together with loved ones to give thanks and stuff our faces, I figured it would be a good time to talk about Peruvian food!

I’ll start off my saying Limeñans love their rice.  I eat rice –usually accompanied by potatoes — basically everyday.  Obviously, I’ve grown pretty sick of it.  Everyday Peruvian food isn’t all that great.  Breakfast and dinner are usually pretty much the same for me: 2 dinner rolls with various toppings included but not limited to olives, ham, cheese, marmalade (the marmalade here is suuuuper delicious) accompanied by either a mixture of kiwicha and “Kwa-ker” (aka Quaker oatmeal) at breakfast or a soup at dinner.   The main meal here is lunch, which usually has an entrada and a segundo.  When you go out, you can usually find places with menus in which you get soup or salad, your choice of entree and a drink all for around s./8 more or less.

Since day to day food is pretty boring, I’ll focus on the things I LOVE and will miss greatly when I’m gone.  I’ll begin with my all time favorite, lomo saltado

It’s basically a tasty stir fry of beef, onions, tomatoes and cilantro.  It’s served with fries and rice (shocking).  This dish is also a reflection of Peru’s Chinese population and their influence over the country’s cuisine.  Lomo saltado is typically cooked in a wok and seasoned with soy sauce.

…Which leads me to chifa, Peruvian Chinese food.  Peru’s Chinese population immigrated to the country after slavery was abolished, as a source of cheap labor.  Lima has a good sized Chinatown, but there are chifas everywhere.  What makes chifa so distinct is its use of Peruvian flavors, ingredients and spices combined with more traditional Cantonese cuisine.  Ask any Peruvian and they will tell you their Chinese food is better than China’s.  My favorite is arroz chaufa, their variation on fried rice.

Another of my favorite Peruvian dishes is tacu tacu.  It’s a mixture of rice and beans that are fried, topped with a fried egg and served with fried banana and a breaded pan-fried steak.  It’s taaaasty. 

There are lots of other traditional Peruvian dishes that are pretty yummy: aji de gallina, pollo a la brasa, papa rellena, sebiche, arroz con pollo and each region has it’s own specialty.  The cool thing about Peruvian cuisine is that it reflects a fusion of the country’s diverse population: African, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, indigenous, French, German…and what a delicious fusion it is.

Peru also has some distinct beverages.  The national cocktail is the Pisco Sour which is made with a special type of grape brandy called pisco.  The drink is made with lemon juice, pisco, egg whites and bitters and is deceivingly tasty.  The national drink is Inca Kola, a bright yellow pop that tastes like cotton candy and bubblegum.  It’s supposed to taste like hierba louisa or lemongrass, but it absolutely doesn’t.  Peruvians adore it, particularly with chifa.

My personal favorite is chicha morada, a sweet drink made from purple corn boiled with pineapple and spices.  It has almost an apple cider-y taste, but minus the apple…the flavor is distinct but yummy just the same.

I will also miss the AMAZING fruit.  Even the bananas taste better here.  There are also all kinds of fruits you can’t find in the states.  My favorites are: granadilla, camu camu, maracuyá, mango and pepino.  Obviously, they also have delicious fruit juices everywhere, freshly prepared.

Living in Peru has also given me the opportunity to eat some interesting things.  Most notably, cuy known to you as your pet guinea pig.  To be honest, the tiny creature hardly has any meat on it.  It’s all bones.  I had a difficult time eating it because it had the head intact.  I don’t like to eat things with eyelashes… But people say it’s tasty if prepared correctly and it’s an important food for much of the country’s population in the sierra.  I’ll leave it to them.  I also had the opportunity to try anticuchos which are kabobs of cow’s heart.  My host mom cooked them at home and she assured my they are much tastier when you eat them at a restaurant.  It wasn’t that bad, just a little tough, but I can imagine they are better when served up hot on the skewer.

So, I recommend you seek out a Peruvian restaurant ASAP as I am sure you’re now hungry for some lomo saltado.  I know I am.

Last weekend I spent some time in the province of Piura in the small beach town of Máncora.  We got some sun and relaxed before finals begin next week!  I have less that 3 weeks left in Lima and am finding myself scrambling to do everything I want to before I leave.  I’m excited to get back to Chicago to spend the holidays with my family (and eat my favorite foods from home) but I’m sad to be leaving my life here in Lima– especially my host mom.  As I reflect more and more on my experience here in Peru, I realize it has been once in a lifetime and has impacted me greatly… but that’s another post.

¡Un beso y un fuerte abrazo! Chau chau


Parades, Floating Islands and Altitude Sickness

Time November 9th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I got home Sunday from a 3 night stay in Puno.  A friend from IFSA– Jessa– and I made the journey to check out “Puno Week” and the famous Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world.

We arrived in Puno on Thursday intending to spend the day resting and acclimating to the altitude.  Puno sits at 3827 meters (12628 feet) above sea level and coming straight from Lima this is a huge adjustment, so we decided to take it easy.  I learned this weekend that high altitudes aren’t for me…. Friday we woke up hoping to see the Puno Day Parade which all the guidebooks told us was November 5th.  We asked at the front desk and it turned out the big parade had taken place the day before.  So, we ventured out to explore Puno and find the handicraft market to do some souvenir shopping.  After lots of wandering and unclear directions, we gave up on finding the market and headed back to the plaza de armas.  On our walk, we kept seeing kids all dressed up in what appeared to be different traditional outfits.  We decided to head in the direction of all these dressed up kids to see if we could find some sort of celebration going on.  Our spying led us to a school courtyard.  On the wall was a huge sign with what looked like a schedule and different locations.  We couldn’t figure out what the schedule was for and we were tired, so we headed back to the hotel hoping we would happen upon something later in the day.  After some rest, we started to hear the echo of drums from our hotel room.  We hurried out and found a parade with all the school children of Puno dressed up and performing various folkloric dances.  They were absolutely adorable and we were happy we got to see at least a small celebration for Puno Week.  Later that night when we headed out for dinner, the parade was still going.  By that time, it was the older kids dancing and they were much more skilled, but obviously less adorable.  I have to say, it was the longest parade I have ever seen.  It lasted hours and hours from noon until maybe 6 or 7 at night!

Saturday was our tour to the lake.  We woke up bright and early and went down to the docks where we took a boat to our first stop, the floating islands of Uros.  These island are incredible to say the least.  The people who live there construct these floating islands from the reeds that are native to Lake Titicaca (see the video for our tour guide’s explanation).  They also use these reeds as building material for their houses, kitchens, boats and handicrafts and as a medicine.  The people on the island were incredibly friendly, but it was all very touristy.  They invited us into their houses and dressed us up in typical clothing so that we could take pictures of ourselves all dressed up.  They also had stands at which they sold their beautiful artwork.  When our visit was over, a group of women sang us goodbye in quechua, aymara, spanish and english finishing with “Row your boat.”  From the floating islands of Uros we got back on the boat and made our way to the island Taquile.  The inhabitants of this island speak quechua as opposed to aymara which is spoken on the islands of Uros.  There, the women have the task of spinning the yarn and the men knit.  Walking around we saw many women spinning yarn and men knitting as they walked.  I didn’t get to enjoy the island very much as I spent most of the visit trying to climb up to the main plaza and restaurant where we’d be eating lunch.  The altitude had really gotten to me and I have to stop numerous times to rest on the way up.  I didn’t want a repeat of Huaraz (aka fainting).  Once we made it to lunch, we ate and our tour guide explained to us the significance of the different hats and shawls we saw the men and women wearing.  On Taquile, men wear beautifully woven wear hats and belts which signify their marital status.  Women wear black shawls with colorful pom poms decorating the corners; their size indicates her marital status.  We also saw the hat which denotes political leaders.  The intricacy of these hats and belts was impressive and beautiful.  From there, we made the long journey back to Puno.

Despite the altitude sickness, Puno and Lake Titicaca were absolutely beautiful.  The weather was lovely, the sun was shining every day and the nights weren’t nearly as cold as everyone in Lima warned.  Clearly Limeñans have never lived though winters in Chicago or Maine… It is incredible to me how many beautiful and interesting things there are to see in Peru alone and I won’t even get to see them all.  I won’t make it to the Colca Canyon in Arequipa, a canyon bigger than our Grand Canyon where condors fly overhead.  Nor will I make it to the Amazon rain forest to see another of Peru’s distinct cultures… Guess I’ll have to come back!  Next weekend I’m heading north towards the border with Ecuador to a beach town called Máncora to get some R&R before the stress of finals and leaving Peru sets in.  I have just over a month left here in Peru and I can’t get over how quickly the time has gone! I have yet to talk about FOOD and the notorious combis… For now, I’m just hoping to make it through the end of the semester smoothly.

Un beso… ¡chau!

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Buscando Sol y Responsabilidad Social

Time November 1st, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I just returned to Lima from an overnight trip with my history professor, some students from our class and members of the DARS (Direccion Academica de Responsabilidad Social) at La Católica.  We traveled to El Carmen, a district of Ica known for its rich Afro-Peruvian culture.  This area was also hard hit by an earthquake in 2007. DARS already has a community development project in a little town called La Garita also located in El Carmen.  They offer workshops for the women and children of this village and also helped to reconstruct about 40 houses destroyed by the earthquake.  Now, the DARS in looking to start a project in the city of Chincha and my history professor was asked to write a report about the area’s history.  So, us students went along to help conduct some interviews and to visit the projects La Católica has there.

We first arrived in the city of Chincha and headed to a restaurant for breakfast.  There, we interviewed the owner of the restaurant, the granddaughter of Italian immigrants (who is married to a man that is half Japanese…).  She talked to us about the history of Chincha, the immigration and the subsequent fusion of cultures.  Her food, for example, is a fusion of traditional Italian with Peruvian influences.

Then, we got on a combi headed for El Carmen.  El Carmen is the district’s capital and home to many Afro-Peruvians.  We stayed with a family of musicians and dancers.  Their walls were covered with photographs of women in bright dresses dancing and groups playing cajon.  The general feeling in this town was incredibly distinct from that in Lima.  You got the sense that everyone knew each other.  People called to each other in the streets and everyone’s door was always open– no need to knock.  People on the street always greeted you with “Buenos días” or “Buenas tardes” and children ran up and down the block dancing and playing soccer in the relatively empty streets.  Walking around, it was easy to see this was a poor area and many of the houses still showed signs of the devastation caused by the earthquake.  We ate lunch at one of the only restaurants in town while interviewing a local.  Lunch was a dish typical of the area called sopa seca con carapulcra which was pretty tasty.  I couldn’t understand much of what the man said –he spoke very fast and had a distinct accent– but he told us a bit about El Carmen’s history and what happened after the earthquake hit.  He works with a number of different NGOs and told us about their vital role in the reconstruction of the town.  That night, we all sat around and talked and I got to know some of my Peruvian classmates (finally!).  They said if they hadn’t known I was a gringa, they would’ve pegged me as maybe not Peruvian, but definitely Latina.  Woohoo!  What a compliment.

The next day we headed out of El Carmen to La Garita where DARS has some ongoing projects.  (But not before seeing some zapateo from some of the kids in the plaza.)  The houses in La Garita are even more simple than those in El Carmen.  Many have roofs made of woven cane or sheets of tarp.  This community lives mainly off of agriculture and they find work when during the different seasons, depending on what crop is ready to pick.  We got to see the school, which is in the final stages of its reconstruction and a few of us participated in the workshop with the kids.  Many of them were very friendly and outgoing, coming up to us and initiating conversations.  Later on in the day, some members of the DARS work with the mothers, many of whom are still having emotional/psychological problems as a result of the earthquake.  After eating a lunch of arroz con pollo in one of the homes, we got on a combi back to Chincha and from there caught a bus back to Lima.

It is moments like this weekend that I am so glad I chose to come to Peru.  I got to see a very distinct part of Peruvian culture; I got to meet people and see places I would have never seen as a tourist.  I also FINALLY got to know some Peruvians my age outside of the classroom.  Overall, it was a fun experience.

Although I am missing Halloween in the US, today is also El Día de la Cancion Criolla, a celebration of Peruvian music.  Hopefully I will get to celebrate by heading to a peña to hear some live music.  This coming Thursday I head to Puno for “Puno Week” and a tour of Lake Titikaka.  I am reeeeeally excited about it.  The following weekend I return to Chincha with IFSA for some sun and some lessons on the cajon and zapateo.  Then comes Thanksgiving dinner, our sendoff dinner, finals and then– Chau Perú! I’ve got about a month and a half left and with all this traveling, I’m sure it will go by quickly.  It’s hard to believe my time here is almost up!

Happy Halloween to all my gringitosUn beso– chau!

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Los milagros siempre occuren en Octubre

Time October 21st, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It is October in Lima, which means a little more sunshine, Halloween (I know, I was surprised too…) and El Señor de los Milagros.  El Señor de los Milagros, also known as Cristo Moreno or Señor de los Temblores among other names, is a mural painted by a black slave in the 1600s.  The story says that there was a huge earthquake during this era in which much of the city was destroyed, yet this mural was miraculously left standing.  In Peru, October is el mes morado.  During this month, devotees visit the church in which the painting stands.  Many stand in line in order to touch the float which is paraded through the streets in various processions at the end of the month.  These processions draw enormous crowds.  The faithful bring pictures of loved ones, rosaries or other objects to touch to the float in the hopes that their prayers are answered or miracles realized.  Others bring flowers or donate money as an offering to el señor.

I went to visit with my host mom and her friend and it was certainly an interesting experience.  We took a combi to the hustle and bustle of the center of Lima.  We got off and as you looked around there were blocks and blocks of little stores and vendors selling all kinds of little trinkets: rosaries, candles, pins, beads… everything purple.  There were also stretches of storefronts selling turrones de Doña Pepa which is a dessert typical of el mes morado.

I’m not a big fan, but people here love it.  It’s prepared with a honey made from stewed fruits and was traditionally an afro-Peruvian dish.

The church was super crowded and at first I felt a bit out of place.  I’m not Catholic, but there is a certain feeling in the air.  My host mom, who is catholic, told me she asked for el señor to bless my family and loved ones and keep them safe.  As I stood taking in the mural and all the people assembled, I decided to use the time to think of all the things, people, and experiences in my life I am grateful for.  It seemed appropriate.  As we left, we saw one women approaching the altar on her knees.  My host mom told me there are some devotees who follow the float along its entire route on their knees.  This image clearly demonstrates the immense devotion many Peruvians have to el Señor de los Milagros and his importance to Catholics in Peru.  After leaving the church, we stumbled upon a sort of altar behind the church.  There, people purchased candles that they then burned for a particular loved one or prayer.

On a side note, I apologize for the crazy filming.  I was trying to be discreet on the streets, because my host mom kept telling me to put away my camera before someone snatched it.  You can hear her warning me in the video :)  I hope to be able to attend one of the parades at the end of this month, although my host mom has warned me against it.  Maybe we’ll just watch it on TV instead.

There is also a new Peruvain film called Octubre which takes place against the backdrop of el mes morado in Lima.  A group of us gringos went to see it and enjoyed it, so I recommend it.  It just won an award at Cannes.

Octubre la pelicula

In other news, I am officially half way through my time here in Peru!  In many ways, I can’t believe how fast the time has gone.  On the other hand, I feel like I have been here for a long time and have gotten into a steady routine.  I feel more comfortable and can feel my Spanish improving daily.  I hope to travel to Puno in the first week of November to see Lake Titicaca (cue the giggles) and to see a little of “Puno Week.”  Tomorrow we had to Caral for the day with IFSA.  Caral is the oldest civilization in the Americas and the 3rd oldest in the world: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Caral.  Pretty bacán huh?

!Chau– un beso!

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One wonder of the modern world down…

Time October 11th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

We arrived in Aguas Calientes around 10:00 pm and headed to our hotel.  At our hotel, we were informed that in order to climb Huayna Picchu, (the big mountain behind the ruins which only 400 are allowed to climb per day) we would have to be on the first bus to Machu Picchu at 5:30 am.  This meant getting in line by 4 am… meaning we woke up at 3:30 am.  Needless to say, we went straight to bed.

We ended up on one of the first buses up and got our tickets stamped to climb Huayna Picchu at 10 am.  When you first arrive, you can’t see the ruins.  Then, you start to climb and climb and all of a sudden, there it is.  Machu Picchu.  It was early in the morning and there were clouds settling over the ruins.  It looked like a living postcard… but pictures can’t capture its grandeur.  The feeling you get is hard to describe, but mostly, I was in awe.  We climbed up to some of the terraces overlooking the city and watched the sun rise over the ruins without any tourists on them.

After exploring the ruins themselves for a while, it was time to head up the mountain.  Having looked at Huayna Picchu for a while, I was convinced I would make it about half way up at best.  It looked incredibly steep, and it was.  It took me a while… there are points at which the stairs just go straight up and I’m not in the best shape.  But everyone on their way down encouraged us, telling us we were close. After the fourth time someone told me I was “close” I stopped believing them.  Regardless, I finally made it to the top.  The ruins look tiny and I finally got a sense of how high up I really was (which made me a little nervous as I’m afraid of heights).  There is a temple which sits atop Huayna Picchu, the Temple of the Moon.  That coupled with the birds eye view of the city made me think:

a.) Who decided this was a good place to build a city?

b.) The Incas were crazy/incredible/wicked smart.

c.) They also must have been in great shape and not afraid of heights.

We spent some time at the top contemplating these profound questions 😉 and then headed back down, which ended up being more nerve wracking than the trip up.  Thankfully, I learned that a handful of people have actually fallen off the mountain to their death after I climbed it.

Once we were back to the main site, we walked around more but the sun was getting hot and we were all very tired.  We headed back to Aguas Calientes to eat lunch with our Resident Director, Laura, and everyone drank enormous quantities of water.  After that, some of us walked around the tourist market looking for gifts.  It wasn’t long before we had to be back to the train station to head back to the city of Cusco.

I was expecting to sleep on the train ride after that climb and the lack of sleep, but that certainly didn’t happen.  For the trip back, Laura bought us seats in a nicer train compartment.  This ticket included a light dinner and a show.  First, one of the train employees came out in a mask and brightly colored outfit, dancing up and down the isle.  Then came the fashion show of the finest in alpaca sweaters and accessories.  I have to say, it was the most interesting train ride I have ever been on.

There were a few things on our trip I wish we had done differently.  Because we were running around every day, we never got a chance to really see Cusco.  Everyone told us what a great city it was and that it has some of the best nightlife in Peru, but we never got a chance to experience it as everyone was always tired by the end of the day.  Also, it would have been great to have a tour guide at Machu Picchu.  Admittedly, I should have read more about it before arriving.  All we could really do was wander around and try to guess what everything was.  It would have been a much more enriching experience to have had someone knowledgeable with us for at least part of the day.  All complaints aside, it was an incredible experience.  I can officially cross one wonder of the modern world off my list!

From living amongst the clouds, to the hustle and bustle of Lima… a lot of people were a little upset to return to Lima.  I am getting used to Lima and life here, although it can be frustrating at times.  All I can do it take it one day at a time.  Each day I feel like I’m riding a mini culture shock curve. 

But that’s another post…

¡Chau for now!

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¡Cusco! (…or Cuzco)

Time September 29th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This past weekend I was lucky enough to travel to Cusco, Peru and beautiful Machu Picchu.  The trip to Cusco is one of two we take with IFSA-Butler, so our transportation, accommodations, tours, tickets and 2 meals a day were already organized and paid for.  We were only gone for 5 days, but we did so much within that short period of time I’ve split it up into 2 posts and 2 videos.

Our trip started out with a 3 hour wait at the airport as our plane was delayed.  Once we arrived at the airport, our Resident Director, Laura, picked us up from the airport.  Our plane delay ended up cutting into our time to rest.  Cusco is 3360 meters above sea level, so we had to be careful about overexerting ourselves.  We ate a quick, light lunch and headed out on our tour.  The first place we visited was Sacsayhuamán.  Our guide told us that this site was a ceremonial center built by the Incas.  It is constructed with the precision the Incas are known for.  Some of the rocks were enormous and it was hard to believe they were transported from a far away quarry.  We got a beautiful view of the city and slid down some Incan slides.

The next morning we wok up bright and early to drive the three hours to la Casa Refugio Mara de Nazareth, a home for girls who have been raped and come from abusive homes.  When we got there, we found out the girls had prepared a show for us.  They performed some dances Peruvian dances, including la marinera norteña. We were then invited to participate in the show.  Two girls from my group decided to juggle and then we all did the electric slide.  Then, it was time to give the girls their gifts.  Most of us had “adopted” one or more of the girls and bought them each a present.  It was very exciting  see how enthusiastic the girls were about their gifts.  One of the tiniest girls showed everyone her brand new toothbrush and many were enamored with their new teddy bears.  At the end of our visit, the girls sang us a song and we said our goodbyes.  Before we left, the nun who was the director of the home thanked us for our visit and began to cry, as did many of the girls.  There are not many safe homes for victims of rape or domestic abuse in Peru– none that are state-run– which makes the work these nuns do all the more important.  Our visit there was certainly eye-opening and allowed us to see a different aspect of life in Peru.

After leaving the girls, we visited an organization devoted to sustainable farming.  We learned how one community was able to recycle their water and visited a sustainable, organic farm.  Then, we visited the organization’s headquarters, where we saw the various projects (such as solar ovens and showers) that were being constructed.  After our second lunch that day (the nuns served us one unexpectedly) we headed back to the hotel.

Out third day in Cusco was filled with more sightseeing.  In the morning, we walked to a cathedral in Cusco which was built on top of an Incan place of worship.  From there, we journeyed to el Valle Sagrado.  Our first stop was was a llama and alpaca farm.  We got to feed the animals, and I even managed to hug one!  After playing with the llamas and alpacas, we learned about the natural dyes used to color the thread.  They also had a beautiful shop filled with hats, sweaters and other tapestries.  We then journeyed to the ruins of Písac.  These ruins, like many of the ruins we saw, were filled with agricultural terraces.  Next, we went to Ollantaytambo.  One of the things I found most interesting about this site was the unfinished Templo del Sol.  Our guide told us that there are large rocks scattered about the surrounding area, one of which is called la piedra cansada or “the tired rock” because it didn’t made it to its destination before the town was abandoned.

In Ollantaytamo we did some souviner shopping, ate a quick dinner.  Then, we hopped on a train that took us to the town of Aguascalientes where we spent the night before heading to Machu Picchu bring and early the next morning.

Hasta luego!

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My Neighborhood Ancient Ruins

Time September 17th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on My Neighborhood Ancient Ruins by

My past two Saturdays here in Lima have been spent at some pretty incredible sites.  First, our group visited the Huaca Pucllana, located in the center of Miraflores.  The Huaca was a central ceremonial and administrative site for the Lima tribe.  This structure is filled with plazas in which the community held various religious ceremonies and celebrations.  It was also the location of the human sacrifices the performed to their goddess.  The Lima were savvy engineers, as they built this structure to be earthquake proof.  As you can see in the video, the bricks are vertical not horizontal.  They also have no grout between them, only empty space which allows the bricks to move back and forth during an earthquake, leaving the structure intact.  According to the archiologist who gave us the tour, the Huaca looks like Jello during an earthquake.

Last Saturday, we drove about an hour out of Miraflores to Pachacamac.  This site has many pyramids.  It was inhabited by 4 cultures, the first being the Lima tribe and the last being the Incas.  The first structure we saw was the home of the “chosen women” who worked making chicha and who would later be sacrificed.  Second, we saw one of 16 or so pyramids built by the the Huari (…I think).  Each pyramid was built for each new ruler.  Once the Incas were in charge, they used these pyramids as dumps.  We saw various other pyramids, but the most impressive was El Templo del Sol.  We got a view of the beautiful ocean and the sun came out just in time.  It was a lovely way to end our visit.

On the way back towards Miraflores, we stopped for chicharrones which is a sandwich of fried pork, sweet potato and onions.  As we approached this stretch of restaurants or chicharronerias, representatives of every restaurant approached our van with pieces of chicharrón on a fork.  They knocked on the windows and offered us samples in the hopes of luring us to their eateries.  It was pretty funny.

Next week, I’ll be attending a symposium called “Finding a Path to Peace Through Equality and Inclusion” with my host mom.  Also, next Thursday we leave for Cuzco and Macchu Pichu!  I am beyond excited.


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Some Visuals

Time September 10th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I thought I’d post a few pictures from the past month… enjoy!

El Parque del Amor

Picture 1 of 13


Chau from Lima!


One Month Down

Time September 7th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I have been here in Peru for more then a month now!  It’s hard to believe.  My weekend trip to Huaraz was absolutely beautiful.  The video and pictures don’t do it justice, but they hopefully give you a sense of the breathtaking views.

We left Lima at 9:30 pm last Thursday and traveled the 8 hours to Huaraz overnight.  I slept a bit, but the people sitting in front of me essentially had their seats in my lap, so it was a bit uncomfortable.  When we finally arrived, it was early morning and cold!  We soon learned, like my host mom warned me, one day in la sierra can have 4 different seasons.  Our group then set out to find a market to buy some food for the weekend.  After walking around the market for a while, I began to feel funny and almost fainted!  Hello high altitude.  After resting, we went to the second level of the little market where there were a number of small eateries.  We ordered some mate de coca– a tea made of coca leaves– to help with the altitude sickness and caldo de gallina.

Because our inn was situated in the mountains, we had to call a taxi to drive us there.  As we waited, the sun came out and “summer” arrived.  It was lovely to feel the sun again, as we don’t see much of it here in Lima.  Soon, the taxis arrived and drove us the 30 minutes to our inn on unpaved, mountain roads.  We all decided to take it easy and relaxed in the sunshine for the rest of the afternoon.

The next morning, we embarked on a hike to one of the nearby valleys.  I am, admittedly, a bit of a weakling when it comes to trekking and hiking, but this was just ridiculous.  Although it looked like we were walking on essentially flat land, it felt like I was running up hill.  What should have been a pretty easy hike ending up being quite tiring.  We stopped and ate lunch by the river before heading home… but not before meeting a couple of bulls along the path who wanted our food.

On our second day, a group of us decided to make the long journey to see two beautiful lagoons.  The journey was indeed long.  We first took a combi from our inn down to town.  From there, we took another to a town called Yungay (this combi was packed and we had to ride backwards the whole way. Not pleasant).  After getting off the combi in Yungay, we were bombarded by taxi drivers offering to drive us up to the national park and the lagoons.  Soon after, we were on our way.  The lagoons were absolutely beautiful.  The water was literally turquoise and there weren’t many other people around so the setting was very peaceful.  We stayed for about 2 hours before our taxi driver picked us up.  On our way back down to Yungay, we got a flat tire and the taxi driver’s jack was rusted and useless.  After various attempts, we informed him we needed to get back into town before the combis stopped running.  After much waiting to no avail, we stopped a Limeñan couple who agreed to drive us back down to Yungay.  They were headed to what we only knew to be a large Jesus statue and invited us to join them.  It turns out, the town of Yungay was completely destroyed in the 1970s.  From what I understood, there was an earthquake which caused some lakes to flood which caused a huge mudslide.  Most of the town’s citizens were killed, and those who survived did so by climbing to the town’s cemetery, to the foot of this large Jesus statue.  From there, the couple graciously drove us back to Huraraz.

Overall, the trip was a success.  It was really great to get out of the hustle and bustle (and pollution) of Lima and relax in the calm of the beautiful mountains.  Even on the combi to La Católica Wednesday morning, I felt a sense of calm… which is not usually the feeling combis provoke.  At the end of this month, we travel with IFSA to Cuzco to see MACHU PICCHU!!  It we be lo maximo, I’m sure.

¡Hasta luego!


Weekend Getaway

Time August 27th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Tonight, a group of us are heading out of the city to Huaraz, Peru.  Huaraz is about 8 hours northeast of Lima by bus.  It is in the ANDES mountains and we will be doing some hiking and taking in all the amazing views.  I hope to return with lots of beautiful pictures.  We are staying at an inn which is actually situated in the mountains.

This was our second week of classes.  Monday, all the internantional students finally registered and I am officially taking Peru in Modern Times and Gender and Politics.  I am happy finally be enrolled in my classes, even though it meant waking up at 5 am to be at PUCP by 7.  Commuting to and from PUCP is still a chore, but I am getting used to the system.  Combis can be a very stressful mode of transportation, but they are cheap, can get you anywhere you need to go, and are always there when you need them.  Missed your combi?  Just lift your pinky finger and 10 more will stop to pick you up.  I also got the chance to ride the brand new Metropolitano bus which goes along the via expresa.  They are very nice and are a calmer alternative to combis.  They also remind me of taking the El in Chicago, which is a comfort.

My home and host mom are still wonderful.  We live on the middle floor of a 3 flat.  My room used to belong to her daugther and is the same color as my room at home.  I live in a district called Miraflores, one of Lima’s 43 districts.  It is a very nice place with lots to offer and most of the IFSA students live here.  There are many shops, parks, resturants, discotecas, movie theaters… anything you could ever need.  My host mom and I are getting along very well.  She is very talkative and caring.

As for the grey skies in Lima… I am getting used to them.  It makes me appreciate the little sun we get that much more.  Yesterday, we were able to sit outside and enjoy the sun while eating lunch on campus.  Hopefully, as we get closer to spring and summer, the sunshine will become more frequent.  I certainly look forward to it.

I will be sure to post video and pictures from the trip to the mountains soon!



Here we go…

Time August 16th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Our two weeks of orientation are over here in Lima.  On Monday we begin classes at PUCP! Thankfully, us foreign students get a week of “shopping” and don’t actually register for classes for a while.  That gives us some time to feel out the course and the professor.  We have been informed how different the system is here in Peru, so I’m nervous to see what its really like. As a Gender & Women’s Studies major, it has been a bit of a challenge to find courses.  I am still working out my schedule, but I hope to have classes only 2 days a week.  Because PUCP is so far away, it seems like making the trek only twice a week will leave me more time to explore and study.

Last night we went on a nighttime tour of Lima.  It was beautiful to see all plazas at night and we went to an amazing park full of fountains.  Some of us even ventured in despite it being a little chilly.  It was a fun way to finish off orientation.

I have been trying to describe the traffic here in Lima, but nothing seems to capture it.  Hopefully some of this video does…

As I have recently been informed that here in Peru it is not “Ciao” but “Chau”…
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Bienvenidos a Lima.

Time August 6th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I have been in Peru for exactly one week.  I arrived with my family on July 29 and we traveled to Nazca to see the amazing Nazca Lines.  Although I felt awful on the tiny plane from which we saw the Lines, I was still able to appreciate and wonder at them… and hopefully I get a few good pictures…

After almost one week together, everyone here in Lima is still getting to know one another.  There are 12 of us on the program, so I imagine we will all become quite close.  My host family is really just one woman, my Peruvian mama.  She has 2 grown children and a little grandson who I am excited to meet.  My host mom is very sweet and accommodating.  Last night, we went grocery shopping to buy the foods I wanted– lo que te antoja— as she says.

Tomorrow, we make the big journey to La Catolica, where we will be studying.  It’s about an hour from my house on the combi… which is very far compared to a 2 minute walk across campus.  One of the many things I will have to get used to as I adapt to life here in Lima.  The combis, the slang, the neighbor’s many birds which chirp outside my window at 5am, the constantly grey skies are all things I am learned to live with.  I also need to buy some sweaters and slippers!  60 seems warm… but it really isn’t.  And there isn’t heat anywhere!!

So far, we haven’t gotten to see too much of Lima… so I will add video and photographs as I take them.  Ciao!