Buenos Aires continued!

Peak inside the Casa Rosada, the “White House” of Argentina.  Unfortunately there was no Macri sighting, although we did pass by his office!

Teatro Colón, the third best opera house in the world and one of the most stunning and intricate in terms of acoustics, among the five best venues globally. We got to take a little tour, and I went back to see a ballet there. It lived up to all the hype, ooooobviously.

Chinese New Year celebrations in Barrio Chino in the neighborhood of Belgrano…

Palacio Barolo, the location of my justifiably dramatic confrontation with my fear of heights. (actually incredibly worth it because you can see what seems like the whole skyline, leading you to wonder how big this city truly is)

Just can’t get over what you see when you look up! Always so visually interesting and beautiful unlike any city I have ever been to.

Photo credits to my great, great friend and roommate Shruti Bakre.

Shruti Bakre at it again.

My friend, Mattie, who I studied abroad in Peru with last semester, came all the way from Cordoba (where she’s been studying this semester) to visit me and it was a fantastic time. Here’s a picture of us way too (justifiably???) excited for some empanadas.

The Jardín Botánico, which sits only five blocks from my house, is my favorite place to get lost in all the green. They have hundreds of different species of plants, organized and labeled from all over the world.

La Bomba del Tiempo, an all percussion band that totally surprised me how creative each song was, and how the whole crowd was so into their energy. They played at the Konex outdoor cultural center every Monday for awhile.

Throwing it way back to Machu Piccu

It just occurred to me the other day that I never actually wrote about the trip to Machu Picchu in December, the grand finale of the Peru semester abroad!!! So here it is, in all it’s totally-deserving-all-the-hype glory.

The following pictures are from beautiful Cusco, where we learned to make pottery, learned about the influence of Catholicism in the ancient city, walked along the pre-colonial Inca walls of the city, visited ruins, and wandered in no particular direction.

On the way to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu, we stopped in various places in the Sacred Valley, like the salt mines at Maras. We spent half the day at the Amaru community to learn about how they cook, make textiles, farm, and live in harmony with the land. We stopped to experience the architecturally stunning ruins at Ollantaytambo and Moray, and then took a train for the final stretch.

Amaru community, Sacred Valley

Sacred Valley

Moray ruins, Sacred Valley
Salt mines at Maras, Sacred Valley

Ollantaytambo ruins, Sacred Valley

The train to Machu Picchu brought us to another world completely. Where before you were in drier, higher altitude Cusco and the Sacred Valley, replete with mountains and stretches of land that allow you to be able to see around for miles… all of a sudden when you finally get to Aguas Calientes, you’ve descended in altitude and it feels like you’re in the jungle. But you’re also surrounded in every direction by the steepest, skyscraper-competing mountains you could ever imagine. This simple amazement was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Aguas Calientes

And then there’s Machu Picchu and I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

I must thank Bioribel Castillo, Mattie Carroll, Tesa Danusantoso, Katherine Lenahan, Bear Brink, Maria Claudia Schubert-Fontes, and Katie Anne Hayes for amazing photographer skills and for an overall incomparable semester.

Beginning in Buenos Aires

I’ve been in Buenos Aires for 2 weeks now!!!!! The minute I stepped off the plane from very very chilly Newark, I was hit by a wall of 90-degree heat, which is now the new normal. What an amazing place this is. Last week, I spent a week exploring Buenos Aires, and then two days in Uruguay, enjoying the ocean breeze and sitting on the beach. I’ll for sure be heading back there as soon as I can to escape the city heat, as it only takes an hour and a half via ferry to get to Uruguay, and from there you can rent a cheap car and drive it all the way up the coast. I love road trips like that, with the freedom to stop or detour anywhere you want, with the windows rolled down, barefoot, listening to the radio. So cliche, but I think there’s a reason for that, right?

The CIE program officially started last week, with language classes and cultural activities almost every day. It has been a whirlwind, but I think that’s just what you need when you first start settling down in an unfamiliar place. You get to see a little bit of everything, under the comfort of just following around program directors in a group, free of the worry that tends to come with solo-ing it. We went to a beautiful (albeit touristy) estancia this past weekend and spent the day wandering around the place, seeing – and attempting to talk to – all the animals there: parrots, an owl, bunnies, all kinds of chickens, peacocks, donkeys, and lots of horses. We spent the day eating classic gaucho food, parrilla, empanadas, etc etc. There was a show of all different kinds of dances, music, instruments, and traditions.

I’ve only seen a glimpse of what’s here so far, but at this rate I think the semester is going to be rich in discovery of new things. Here’s to another 5 months of being challenged, conversing in a new language, meeting completely different people, growing up a little bit more, and just appreciating every moment for its unique worth.

Huaraz

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.

Arequipa and Colca Valley

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.

Sunny Arequipa
Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa

Breakfast at Killawasi Lodge, Yanque

La Selva

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.

400 year old “wimba” tree
Post-swimming in the Amazon
Butterfly larva

BFF’s
Pedro was hungry.
Anaconda
Katie Anne and her constrictor.
Bioribel makes a friend.
Tarantula!
Caiman!
Gumer and the piranhas we caught!

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.

Photo credit to Katie Anne and her photo skills

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.

Puerto Miguel
Learning how to play “Caracol” in Puerto Miguel

Nauta
Curuhuinsi Lodge
Curuhuinsi Lodge

Thank you to Gumer, everyone at Curuhuinsi Lodge, and Patty, our Program Coordinator!

The Ultimate Road Trip

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.

Laraos at sunset

Que bonita, Huancaya
Fiestas Patrias at Laraos
Trucha frita (fried trout- suuuuper fresh) with chicha morada (purple corn and spice drink). Yum.

Luckily our driver knew what he was doing.

Thank you to Tio, all of Laraos, Casa Hospedaje Katita for a great stay, and Vicky for a great tour!

Lima Lima Lima

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.

View from El Puente de los Suspiros in Barranco, Lima.
Barranco
Barranco
Convento de San Francisco
Mercado Surquillo
Centro de Lima
Catedral de Lima
Chorillos
Costa de Lima

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!

Hasta luego,

Margaret

(various photo credits to all my Peruanas Cheveres: Bioribel, Maria Claudia, Mattie, Katie Anne, Tessa, Katherine)