Photo creds to literally everyone…
Photo creds to literally everyone…
One of the most beautiful places you can go in the entire world: Laguna 69 in Huaraz, Peru. But you have to work for it. At 15,000 feet, you need to be stuffing coca leaves and coca tea and coca candies into your mouth constantly. The hike to the lake started out pretty easy, taking pictures, talking about how amazing everything looked, passing cows and horses and beautiful scenery. As we followed everyone in front of us on the path, it became increasingly harder to catch your breath and the incline steepened. Conversation pretty much slowed to a stop for the three of us by the end. But with every turn on the path, we could see more and more of the mountains surrounding us, and look back down at how far up we had come. We started to see the glaciers on the top of the mountains, but the entire time we were hiking the mountains were so tall we could never see the top. It took about three hours to “hike” (crawl at snail’s pace taking frequent breaks) to the top. But when we finally got there, it was pretty obvious why it’s a World Heritage Site and why people come from around the world.
After a granola bar and an hour long mouth-gaped-open exploration of the lake, we walked two hours to the bus feeling like tough seasoned hikers.
While my mom was here visiting me, we wandered around Lima, had lunch with my whole host family, visited museums, and ate lots of good food (I also took surfing lessons finally!).
We flew to Arequipa for the last weekend of her visit and ventured into Colca Valley. The weekend in Arequipa and Colca Valley was a huge reminder of what makes a good trip a good trip: the element of surprise, not knowing what to expect and taking note of the quirks that come up that you never could have imagined before. Driving through Colca Valley in our tour bus (unashamed to be *that* tourist) it was all wide open spaces and rolling hills and everything was empty and tree-less for miles around. Because it is the dry season, the landscape was invariably in a palette of pale green, yellow, brown and beige, until we approached the towns and finally our hotel destination for the night in Yanque. There was gradually more and more fir trees and shrubs, as if the Georgia O’Keefe-esque lineal, simple shapes of hills and plains had suddenly turned into a detailed picturesque landscape, like something out of wine country somewhere. On our horseback ride in Yanque, we rode up hills and around corners and down into mini valleys. I wanted to keep exploring forever. We passed fields and farms and a thermal natural spring created by the various nearby volcanoes, crossed bridges spanning ravines and streams, and watched people zip line between the hills and cliffs above us.
To do a quick run-through of the characters we met along the way: a pair of Peruvian friends who have known each other since school days, one of whom moved to NJ and started her family there. Countless locals wearing cowboy hats and pulling it off because it just fit so logically with the rest of the environment. Herds of vicuñas, a relative of alpacas and llamas, roaming freely over the plains and grouping together around big puddles of water. All the fluffy baby llamas and alpacas, their owners ready for photo opps in every town. Condors flying overhead, sometimes eleven all at once, at the lookout between two cliffs exclusively from 8-10 a.m. sharp every morning.
The wildlife and landscape was something out of a dream.
And then there was Hermogenes who led us on horseback around Yanque, sitting like a cowboy with one hand on the reins and the other falling casually to his side, having been around horses his whole life. In the middle of the ride, he turned around to tell us it was his birthday that day (!), as if he had been deciding whether to tell us or not the whole time. My mom and I made a huge deal about it. The girl my age working at Casa Arequipa, where we stayed in the city, studying for her English exam. We helped her study from one of her past tests. Honestly, I struggled with most of the questions, resorting to Google often. You don’t realize how much English intricacies you only know because things just sound “right.” It made me grateful I don’t have to learn English as a second language.
Breakfast at Killawasi Lodge, Yanque
I don’t even know how to write a description of our Amazon trip that can do it justice.
The trip was absolutely the most amazing thing I have ever done. We flew from Lima to Iquitos, then travelled four hours by car and boat to arrive in Puerto Miguel, a small village on the Amazon. I really didn’t feel like a tourist on this trip (something I am so happy to say) because every day was full of adventures and you never knew what was coming up around the corner.
Our guide, Gumer, was passionate about finding animals to show us and telling us all about life in the Amazon. We learned which trees and plants are used for medicinal purposes, and which are covered in poisonous spines. He showed us different ants and bugs, the ones that bite, and the ones that just carry leaves in single file to the mother lode all day. We found and caught caimanes of various sizes in rivers and lagoons. We found a snake that was relatively harmless, but we also ran into a deadly coral snake and a massive anaconda. Gumer didn’t hesitate to catch both of them and ask if we wanted to hold them. We fed monkeys oranges and bananas. Gumer took us to a tree that is home to night monkeys so territorial they attack people sometimes (!). He proceeded to yell, whistle, and hit the tree with his machete until they woke up from their nap and peered down at us.
Needless to say, there is hardly any other place on earth that crawls with so much life in such concentration. Walking through the woods or boating along the river, life was everywhere. Trees and palms competing for light in strange shapes with huge foliage, mysterious bubbles coming up to the surface in the muddy water, bugs absolutely infinite and everywhere.
Right before we left the lodge for the last time to return to Lima, Gumer explained the role of tourism in his community. Since there isn’t much governmental presence in la selva, it is up to residents to protect their land and wildlife from exploitation and poaching. Tourism brings money to these communities, so that inhabitants are able to preserve nature and community traditions. I hope that this system truly works for the benefit of these communities, and that tourism continues to serve them well.
Thank you to Gumer, everyone at Curuhuinsi Lodge, and Patty, our Program Coordinator!
I have always loved road trips so much, where conversations stretch over hours, where all sense of time seems suspended, where the familiar sound of tires speeding down the highway hums continuously, where you never know what you’ll discover at the next stop. Our two day trip to Huancaya and Laraos was by far the coolest road trip I can remember. The first pit stop turned into a white-water rafting excursion, barreling down the river between two sets of mountains and the houses on either side. The sun beat down and balanced out the freezing green water. It was so clear you could see all the rocks coming up ahead. The air in la sierra was so different from Lima’s humidity and pollution; it was dry and clear and smelled smoky, dusty, and a little sweet.
Through all the hours in the car that weekend, it was hard for me to peel my eyes away from the window. The color scheme was always uniform: yellow and pale green mountains, low deep-green trees, dusty unpaved roads, bright blue sky. I have never seen mountains sitting so close together and so steep and towering, at least as high as any skyscraper in NYC.
This was the weekend of Fiestas Patrias and the Peruvian independence day, 28 de julio. Every town we drove by was doing something to celebrate: playing music, red and white banners and flags everywhere, families together, eating outside, having parties, people making speeches on microphones.
The highlight for me was our stay in a small town called Laraos, tucked so far up and into the mountains it was quite difficult to get there by car. We had to get out of the van so that the driver could make it up the last stretch of hill. Even considering the separation from valleys and towns below, I was still surprised how well-preserved their lifestyle and culture are.
Our guide, Tio, walked us through his town, explaining all the traditions. Families build their own houses with plaques marked “feliz hogar,” something like “happy home” in English. It really amazed me that every single person we passed on the streets recognized that we were tourists (one way or another) and said “buenos días” with a smile or a nod.
The kids were practicing a choreographed dance at their school for the town’s Fiestas Patrias celebration the next day. Out of nowhere a line of cows ventured onto the basketball court, right in the middle of the dance. Everyone scattered and screamed and one calf slipped on his little spindly legs.
Tio told us stories about spirits he had seen in his life under the stars as we sat around a bonfire that night. I have never seen stars so bright and so innumerous. I brought the Holy Trinity of ingredients from Lima to make s’mores. He didn’t really understand why s’mores were a thing, or how to eat it, but said he liked it.
Thank you to Tio, all of Laraos, Casa Hospedaje Katita for a great stay, and Vicky for a great tour!
Busiest two weeks ever. We have gone to Barranco, Parque del Amor, Costa Verde, El Museo Nacional de Antropología, Arqueología e Historia del Perú, Plaza de Armas, the catacombs of the Monastery San Francisco, Catedral de Lima, Chorillos, a soccer game at Estadio Nacional, and the LUM museum. We have done so many things so far as part of our orientation with EdOdyssey all while learning Spanish in the mornings at El Sol Language School.
Of all these new things in the last two weeks – unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, awesome foods, traditions, chaotic public transportation, social norms, city navigation, new people – the most amazing to me was Pamplona Alta, a lower income district in Lima.
We visited a community there to help them build stairs. On the drive there, the stark contrast with all the other neighborhoods of Lima I have seen was immediately visible. There is hardly any infrastructure and, although pretty close to the rest of Lima, set in towering hills that are dusty and dry this time of year. We walked up the hill on the same path that residents walk every day to and from work. To our backs was a sprawling, impossibly beautiful view of the city below. The sun was out, and amazingly the air was full of sounds of dogs barking in the distance, cars honking (always), yelling, clanking, everything. But from the height we had reached, it was pretty much silent except for the occasional noises of people in their homes.
Needless to say, the walk was more of a crawl for us and we arrived sweaty and sunburned. I am sure the community was amused to see gringos struggle up the hill so ungracefully. We spent the day with the residents mixing cement, passing buckets of water and cement up the hill assembly line-style, and laying down the cement. We couldn’t finish the staircase because there was not enough water to splash between the rocks and cement layers. We are planning on returning soon to finish the stairs.
We ate some bread from the Sierra, drank Inka Cola, chatted, and played Tutti Frutti. It’s a game you usually play on paper, but we didn’t need it to have a good time: you start with a letter of the alphabet and a certain category (name, color, food, etc) and you go around the circle, each person coming up with a different word. I got my butt kicked with my strictly limited Spanish vocabulary and I was shown no mercy.
It was such a beautiful beautiful day that it’s hard to describe. We’re hoping to return soon and to continue to have a relationship with those families and help them in some way if we can.
I can’t believe how much has happened and there’s still a lot to look forward to before classes at the university, PUCP, start. We’re spending this 28 de julio (Peruvian independence day) weekend in Huancaya. More on that soon!
(various photo credits to all my Peruanas Cheveres: Bioribel, Maria Claudia, Mattie, Katie Anne, Tessa, Katherine)
I leave for Perú in ELEVEN days!!! On the outside, I cannot wait another second. On the inside, I am definitely freaking out a bit – speaking Spanish, being in a completely new culture, new school, new routine, new people, so many new things… The good news is that everything is coming into place after so many months of wondering what this would finally feel like, being ready to jump on a plane and into a new culture.
I’ve got one of those massive suitcases that could easily fit a few small ponies. I have a backup supply for several months of my favorite shampoos, sunscreens, toothpaste, etc. I know where I am going to be living and have exchanged emails with my host family. I have that requisite gnawing feeling like I’m forgetting something really important. Obviously, that feeling doesn’t go away until you get there and realize you’ve forgotten something really important.
So for now, I’m just curious about what my life is going to look like soon. I’ve always loved traveling, seeing another lifestyle, different routines, different foods, different norms, different conversations, a totally different scene. But I have never lived in a foreign place for a period longer than a few weeks. So I wonder what it will be like for me personally to join the other: to live that completely different way, the Perú way and the Lima way. I know the adjustment is going to be hard, but there are so many things to look forward to that I keep forgetting to be scared of the impending culture shock. Maybe that will come later, as I’m about to get off the plane and realize the massive undertaking I have signed myself up for. Or maybe, the fear of adjustment won’t even happen; when the time comes for me to adjust I’ll still be just as excited (let’s hope!).
Nevertheless, I can’t wait to share the whole process of adjustment, acclimation, and the creation of a new lifestyle over the course of this year!