El Fin

So, after ten days in Lima and about three weeks in Cusco, the program came to an on Thursday, with most of my classmates flying home. Although it has only been just over a month, it has felt like much longer. Thinking back to that insane first week in Lima, it seems like a year ago. We finished the program with one last discussion and then one last meal as a group, and both were lots of fun and more than a little bittersweet. It was hard not to wish we had just a little bit more time.

I remember the culture shock of arriving in Lima and seeing the streets filled with tiny little taxis that rarely obeyed stop signs and didn’t seem to care much for the safety of pedestrians. I think I will be irritated when I return to the USA and find it nearly impossible to wave down a taxi (and even harder to pay one dollar for a ride across town). I remember the pleasant surprise of purchasing empanadas for two soles (sixty cents) a piece, and the unpleasant surprise of finding out what Peruvian food poisoning feels like. It will be nice to be able to fearlessly eat whatever I want again.

But these things – taxis, empanadas, and food poisoning – are material. This country has had a much deeper impact on me than that. I said at our last class meeting that when one speaks of “Peru” he or she is often speaking of not only a country, but of a people as well. When one speaks of the USA, he or she is speaking of, more often than not, a government or a land mass. It is this difference, this sense of community and solidarity, that I think will have the most lasting impact on me. Of course, it is impossible to know what will really have the largest impact on me until some time has passed, and I am able to look back on the experience from an outside perspective. For this reason, this post will not be my last (and thus the title becomes a little bit ironic). I will probably say a bit more some time in September.

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I want to thank all my classmates, who have been rarely mentioned in this blog but who have been an important part of this program and this experience for me. It is with them that I enjoyed (or didn’t) each of the experiences I have described, and without them none of these stories would have been as whole. Likewise, their different perspectives on everything we have done have helped me sort through my own thoughts, and without their opinions I would not have been able to clearly form my own. I have made many great friends along the way and I look forward to seeing you all in Seattle.

Finally, I want to thank my professors, Jose Antonio Lucero and María Elena García. They put this whole program together, they pushed us to go out and really become more than just observers, and they introduced us all to this amazing country. They were and are irreplaceable, and without them this program never would have happened (and I would probably be sitting in Seattle playing Fifa right now). Besides all that, they are both amazing people and I highly recommend to any UW students that they take a class with one or the other (or both). Thanks again guys!

For me the next few days look like this: Tomorrow I return to Macchu Picchu with my mom, who (obviously) is visiting me here in Peru. Sunday is my last day in Cusco, and I will probably spend much of it at the market across the street from my hotel. Monday morning we fly to Lima and have the entire day there. And then Tuesday at 12:20 AM I fly back to Seattle, stopping briefly in Atlanta and L.A. As much as I love this country and have enjoyed my time here, I cannot wait for the moment the tires hit the runway at Sea-Tac. Home is always home, no matter what.

Life in Cusco Pt. 2

Last weekend was entirely free, so we had an opportunity to explore the city a little bit. On Saturday we began by heading to La Chomba for lunch. Even though we were the only tourists in the joint, everyone was really nice and friendly. We accidentally ordered a two liter of Inca Kola (a very Peruvian soft drink, kind of tastes like banana popsicles) between three of us, but we decided to finish it anyways. Towards the end we were laughing and having trouble with it, and the couple sitting next to us was having a good time watching us as well. Also, after we finished our meal (big hunks of meat and lots of potatoes) they took our bones to use for soup. There was also live music – a guitar, a mini-guitar Choronga*, and an accordion. The music was good, but all three of band members looked depressed.

After lunch we decided to go for a little bit of a walk outside of the neighborhood we live in. After just a few minutes we were in a completely different looking place – dirt roads and mud brick house. We started going up one of the hills on the side of the valley, with our initial destination being a huge stair case we had seen from a distance. When we finally reached that one, we decided to keep going up, and then up, and then up, until finally we were at the top of the hill, looking over the city (I am going to include some pictures of this, but my computer will not allow it right now). On the way up, we passed chickens, sheep, a few cows and lots of dogs. We also ran into more than a few people who wanted to test their English on us: “Hello! Excuse me! Goodbye!” At the top, we were befriended by a very friendly young dog with one blue eye and one brown. I guess she liked us, because she followed us for almost a mile on the way down, until a few dogs chased her out of their territory.

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We saw a lot of amazing stuff, and I am not entirely sure how to write about all of it, but I think the thing that made me think the most was how different the life style is up there. The houses are small and mostly very open, and they all have beautiful views. It is far quieter than in the city – far more peaceful. The downside is, for those who work in the city, they have a very long commute, almost all of them on foot, to wherever they work. It’s an odd mirror of a suburb in a U.S. city.

After the long day on Saturday, I decided to take it easy on Sunday. I spent most of the day reading a John Grisham novel I found in the hotel. Like all of his books, it is completely addicting, and placed in the south. His vivid descriptions of southern food (fried okra, fried chicken, butter beans, collared greens, etc.) had me missing what used to be a family tradition: the mid summer trip to South Carolina. It is never really warm here in Cusco, and some 90 degree weather is sounding pretty nice right about now.

Today, after a brief meeting with the (esteemed) professors in the morning, I headed to El Molino, the bootleg market. The place had everything you might find in a Target: DVDs, CDs, clothing, watches, bicycles, shoes, televisions, etc. All of it, however, is about one tenth as expensive as it would be in the U.S. I bought a two disc CD for about two dollars. The whole time, I kept thinking: we need one of these markets in Seattle.

*My esteemed professors, who apparently read this blog, pointed out to me that the official term is not ´mini guitar´ but Choronga. My mistake.

Making Money in the Andes

On Thursday, we went to a weaving workshop in a small town about an hour from Cusco, further into the mountains. The location was a kind of women’s weaving collective, where a bunch of middle aged women from the town worked as weavers, making their own yarn, dying it, and then weaving it into beautiful ponchos, hats, table cloths, and other items of this sort. As it turned out, we were more involved in the thread dying portion of the process than anything else, so perhaps a more appropriate title would be a “yarn dying workshop.” Really, we didn’t do much. First, we threw a bunch of llama and sheep’s wool yarn into huge pots of boiling water, added some dye, and stirred. Then we went to lunch, which was a delicious assortment of Andean dishes, including roasted Guinea Pig (which actually was not that great). After lunch, we took the yarn out of the pots to dry. That was about it, although the whole process took a few hours. After we were done preparing the yarn, we were giving the opportunity to look at and purchase the actual textiles the women produced. They all say in front of their own weaving, and they all kept all of the profits from anything we bought. This is how they earned their living – selling one large table cloth might feed them and there family for months. The items were not especially cheap; everything was priced in U.S. dollars, and a table cloth could cost hundreds.

For me, the highlights were getting to talk to the women, all of whom were very nice and had this manner of talking which I found very calming – slow and soft – and getting to see the mountains. Sitting in our hotel, it is easy to forget that I am in the second highest mountain range in the world, but when we drive up out of Cusco, I am immediately reminded by the snow capped peaks in the distance.

Yesterday we went and talked to Teo Chambi, grandson of Peru’s most famous photographer, Martin Chambi. We heard about the Chambi family history and the enormous archives of Martin Chambi’s work that still exists today. As a photographer, Matin Chambi made his living snapping portraits of rich folks, but he made a name for himself capturing images that held the spirit of the Andes. The one I included is called Tristeza Andina – Andean Sadness.

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I also got a chance to talk to our cab driver of the way to Mr. Chambi’s house. First, some background: in Cusco and in Lima there are more taxi’s than anyplace I have ever been. These are not your normal yellow U.S. taxis but tiny little Toyotas and Mitsubishis, many of which are unmarked. To catch one you just stand on the side of the street for about 10 seconds and one will pull up in front of you. The fares are outrageous. To get pretty much anywhere in Cusco it costs less than five soles ($1.50). I asked my cab driver about the business: do cabbies rent or own their vehicles, and how much does it cost to rent. Some rent, some own, he told me, and it costs fifty soles a day to rent a cab. Add in gas expenses and that type of thing, and cabbies are not making a whole lot of money. Let’s say 6 fares an hour at an average of 2.5 soles. That’s 15 soles an hour, so if they work eight hour days, that’s a total of 120 soles of revenue. Minus the rent and gas expense, they make anywhere between 70 and 40 soles a day (I have no idea how much they would spend on gas). That’s about 15 – 25 dollars. (If anyone things some of these calculations are wack, let me know)

Fútbol

No surprise, everyone here plays/likes soccer. I already told about playing soccer with the kids in Lurín, just outside of Lima. I mentioned also how we played soccer with that wonderful family that gave us potatoes. On Sunday, I added to my fútbol experience here by actually going to a soccer game, which pitted the local team, Cienciano (which we estimated means scientist –weird huh?) against the team which is second in the Peruvian standings, Juan Aurich.

The game itself was really great. The home team won on five pretty awesome goals, a few from 25, 30 meters out, another on a break away, and the away team scored once on an amazing shot from almost half field. Although the stadium was less than half full, the crowd was still pretty enthusiastic, singing and chanting. Why don’t we ever sing at American sporting events, other than those lame fight songs? soccer 2Soccer 1

One really surprising aspect of the whole thing is that no alcohol was allowed in the stadium, this despite the fact that Cristal, a Peruvian beer, has advertisements EVERYWHERE. I’ll admit it, we were disappointed, but I suspect it has something to do with riot prevention. The well known formula is: alcohol + sports = riots (ask any Michigan State alumni/student). Even though alcohol was taken out of the equation, however, they still had about 150 riot police on hand, surrounding the field. It was pretty impressive.

In any event, between the $5 dollar tickets and the breathtaking scenery behind the stadium, the game was a blast. One thing that interested me about the entire affair, however, is the universality of sports. Riding through the sacred valley last week, we passed through some very poor towns, but almost every single one of them had at least one soccer field, and many of them had two. I am not sure what it is about human beings, but we love to compete, regardless of our circumstances. I think this is one of the great things about the world cup: it brings people from such distinct backgrounds together in a really pure and basic way. Can’t wait ‘til 2010.

*Thanks to Laura for the excellent photography.

Kidz in the Streetz

One feature of Cusco that is apparent after a ten minute walk through her streets are the kids. Many of them are vendors, selling clothing, jewelry, candy, cigarettes, shoe shines or pictures with cute fuzzy baby llamas. Some are just hanging out, laughing at ridiculously dressed tourists or playing games in their little kid world. Some are just sitting next to their parents as they work. The vendors are the most attention grabbing, perhaps because they walk right up to you and get in your grill. It’s also a bit unusual to be offered a pack of Marlboros by a 10 year old (and they never buy the “I don’t smoke” line). It can be a bit upsetting to see a tiny little boy racing around with a shoe shine box, hands stained black, asking adults if they want their shoe shines. One cannot help feel guilty telling a 12 year old girl that her finger puppets are not worth the one sol (30 cents) she is asking for. On Wednesday and Friday of last week, my classmates and I went out into the streets of Cusco to learn more about the city and about the kids. On Wednesday, we staked out a McDonalds (yes, there is one here, on the central plaza no less), and on Friday we set out to talk to some of the kids. The McDonalds experience was not all that surprising: its clientele was mostly tourists, a restaurant next door had lost a lot of business to it, etc. Our chat with one of the shoe shine boys, however, was more interesting. The boy, Jean, told us that he worked about 5 hours a day, starting at nine. After working, he went to school in the afternoon. He gives the money to his mother, who works in a market near where he shines shoes (which is outside of church built on Incan ruins, one of Cusco’s central tourist attractions). He also has an older brother, a taxi driver. He said he enjoyed working – the other kids around there are all his friends, and one was his cousin. I guess what surprised me most is that they don’t have it nearly as rough as I thought. While they are certainly poorer than I could even imagine being, they are not working because they are starving to death, they are working to add to the family income, though it may be small. I don’t want to judge this boy and his life – to say this is “good” or “bad” – because I don’t think one can do that without walking in those shoes, but I really do think that he is happier than one might expect a child laborer to be.

Update: I had another exchange with a shoe shine boy on Tuesday. His name was Danny and he was pretty hilarious. We hung out for about an hour and a half and the reason he was able to waste so much time with me is that he had already met his quota. That is, every day he has to give four soles ($1.33) to his parents, but beyond that he can do whatever he wants. If he makes more than that he can keep it. I am not entirely sure, but I don’t think it would take him more than an hour to make that much, which means he usually has 2,3,4 hours to himself.

Life in Cusco

Over the past week and a half in Cusco (which, by the way, has felt like a month), I have done a lot of activities that tourists typically do when they visit here: The Sacred Valley, Macchu Picchu, Cathedrals, Saksaywauman, etc. While many of these have certainly been amazing, even unforgetable experiences they are really only a small part of what I have been up to. The tourist section of Cusco starts at the epicenter – The Plaza de Armas – and fades as you move out, and up into the hills. It is in this “real” Cusco that one sees the other side of the city – the side that isn’t provided for tourists to consume.

Last week, on our first free day in Cusco, my friend Matt and I set out to explore San Blas, a neighborhood that borders the central tourist district and creeps up the Northern hill, towards Big White Jesus. We played hackysack in the main sqaure of the nieghborhood, which was set up as a artisans market at the time. We were joined by a little boy who greatly enjoyed throwing the hackysack as hard as he could at the ground. After that we walked further up the hill, into the truly quiet part of the neighborhood. There we encountered a dog that looked a lot like Baca (if you don’t know, you don’t know), but a bit more nervous. After convincing her we weren’t dangerous, she followed us for about a block before we reached the edge of her territory, and she bid us farewell. Finally we found a park where a few high schoolers were hanging out, one of them playing guitar. The park was on a little plateau overlooking the city, so we bought some beer at a near by tienda and sat down to enjoy the view. After a few minutes we went to talk to the kids, and in no time we were having an avid discussion of U.S. metal bands from the 80s and 90s. Joey, the guitarist of the group was very into this type of music, and he let me show him what I knew of the genre – which was very little, compared to him. There were four of them in all – Ingrid, Pepe, Joey, and Bob – and they invited us back later that night, although we couldn’t make it.

On Tuesday the 28th, we again ventured up San Blas, this time leaving the neighborhood and entering the forest above, where there was rumored to be a soccer field. We found the field, which had yet another breath taking view of the town, and began kicking a ball around. After about 15 minutes, a man emerged from a gate in the far corner of the field and asked us if we wanted to play volleyball. We walked down some steps into his yard, where there was a volleyball net, a small channel of water, and lots of open grass, all of it walled in. We played soccer and volleyball with him and his family, which consisted of his two brothers, his wife, two young boys, a teenage boy, two young girls, and a teenage girl. The boys were all great at soccer and the teenage girl and the mother were awesome at volleyball (for some background, Peru just won the women’s world volleyball championship). After the sports, the family invited us to sit down and enjoy some Huatia with them. Huatia is a way of cooking potatoes in which a sort of clay house is heated up over a fire, the fire is removed and potatoes are thrown into the scalding hot clay, and then the potatoes cook for about an hour. The result is delicious. We talked over potatoes about family size (in Peru 5, 10 kids is normal, they told us) about soccer (the Peruvian team is horrible) about our studies, and much more. After that, Edgar, the sort of Patriarch of the family told us that any time we were in Cusco, we were welcome to stay with him – he gave us his phone number and email address.

I am still trying to figure out why they were so damn nice to us – five American kids. Perhaps they were just in a good mood because the 28th happens to be Peru’s independence day. Maybe they were curious about us. I think, though, that they were just damn nice, nicer than anyone I can imagine in the U.S. (We expected to get kicked off the field we were playing on sooner than be invited into someones yard).

Finally, yesterday, on the tail end of another bout of stomach illness, I found that the bathroom door would not open. I was on the inside. I tried to open it myself for about ten minutes. Then I pounded on the door and woke up my roommate, who was napping. Together we tried for about 20 minutes to open the door. Finally, he called the front desk, who called a technician, who, after about 10 minutes, broke the doorknob off and let me out. I was in the bathroom for 40 minutes, not including the time I was actually using it. Our bathroom still doesn’t have a doorknob.

I will get some pictures up of some of this stuff soon, just have to get the ol’ camera working.

Macchu Picchu

At 5:30am on Monday, we set out for Macchu Picchu, which in Quechua means “old mountain.” After waiting in line for about ten minutes, we boarded yet another tour bus and headed towards the ancient city. As we drove, first along the river, and then along dirt switchbacks up the mountain, the sky began to brighten, illuminating the outlines of the mountains. The rain had passed on and the sky was clear; it was going to be a perfect day. After about 15 minutes of pretty insane bus driving – occaisionally the driver would slam on the breaks so a bus heading down could pass us – we pulled into the parking lot just below Macchu Picchu. The line to enter was about 150 meters long and about three people wide.
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We finally made it into the city, just as the sun was beginning to strike the tips of the mountains to the west. We started out in the farming terraces high about the more urban part of the city, giving us the picturesque view seen on all post cards of Macchu Picchu (picture included, and yes, I took that *UPDATE: Picture deleted because it was sideways, I´ll fix it soon *UPDATE2: The same picture is in the header, on the right, but I did not take that one). A quick word about pictures of Macchu Picchu: while they are cool/beautiful/mysterious, they do the city very little justice. The nearly 360 degree view of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen cannot be captured by any camera, no matter how powerful. For the next two hours we went on a tour with our friend Alex, who had no more comments about the natives, but was quite willing, to his credit, to point out the failings of Hiram Bingham, the Yale professor who “discovered” Macchu Picchu and also happens to be the character on whom Indiana Jones is based. Yale, by the way, sucks. They have a whole bunch of artifacts from Macchu Picchu, all of which Peru has requested be returned and all of which Yale has kept for itself. Imagine if some university in France had the original declaration of independence and wouldn’t return it to us. Same deal. After the tour, we got some time to ourselves to drink in the views and ponder who the heck would have decided to build a city out of stone in such an unbelievable place. The sun was now high in the sky and the tourists were beginning to flood in. The line from earlier had mostly been people who wanted to climb the mountain that hangs right above the city, so for most of the morning, the ruins themselves had been relatively empty. I’m not sure what else to say about Macchu Picchu. It’s the coolest place I’ve ever been. If you really want to know more and see more, go there yourself.

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I rode back down to Aguas Calientes at around 10:30, and sat down for pizza with some friends. We had a train to catch at noon, but we figured we had time to grab a bite at one of the restaurants in the small but very developed town (where, by the way, there were no cars – only tourists). The pizza ended up taking about an hour to prepare, for some reason, and when we finally got it, we took it in boxes and ran to the train station. We ate it waiting for the train, but the crust was doughy, and we hadn’t gotten what we ordered. It was really a debacle of a pizza experience, but there was a bright side: they miscalculated the price and undercharged us by about 40 soles. The final leg of the trip was another train ride followed by a bus ride through the mountains back into Cusco. Although I was fighting sleep the entire time, I saw enough of the country side to realize: this is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.