Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wrapping This Thang Up

This will be the last blog post. As most of you know, we are now back in the States and fully moved to Olympia, WA, beginning the next stage of our lives together in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. So here's how our last month in Peru went.

Doing as my family does everything else - at the last minute, they finally came to visit when we had only a month left in the country. We headed into Lima, met them at the airport, hung around Lima some, then went to Huaraz, where we stayed in our community and went out for day trips to various attractions. Next we returned to Lima for a few days and flew to Iquitos to check out the jungle. Then we returned to Lima for a few more days and they headed back to the States while we returned for the last week and a half in our village.

I'll let the photos speak for themselves instead of trying to remember precise itineraries from a few months ago. We didn't take too many pictures of the stuff in Ancash because we'd seen most everything before, so most are of Iquitos.

Iquitos and More

Now, a few thoughts on leaving our home from the past two years. Food? We won't miss so much. After all, we have rice and potatoes here too. Constant miscommunication? We can probably do without it. Our host family? That's another story. It was really tough. Our host mom insisted on riding the combi down to Huaraz and walking us to the bus station (that we had navigated countless times on our own previously), and moments before the bus departed not only she but also a good friend of Amanda's and her very cute two year old daughter showed up to invite us to some snacks for the trip. Stuffing us with unneeded calories to the very end - that's Peruvian love. In two years I've maybe once seen a Peruvian cry, and even then I wasn't sure that I actually saw what I think I saw. The fact that there were tears at our departure speaks well to the connection we made over these two years. Needless to say, we will be keeping in touch with our Peruvian family.

I think that's about it. Thanks for reading these past two years, and if ever you have a question about Peru, feel free to get ahold of us.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Stitch In Time Saves Your Toe

This post will probably be one of our last as our time here in Peru is rather quickly coming to a close. Since the last post in April not a whole lot has happened or changed, but I'll try to get a good idea across to you of what the last 6 months of Peace Corps service looks like.

I'd often heard that the last several months are the most productive. Given the usual attitudes of those in my community, I wasn't expecting much, but it does seem now that since April my projects have taken off. I finished up the 12 week “Steps Forward” sexual education course with three different groups and took one of the best students to a regional conference of which I was part of the planning committee. I finally got a handful of house visits done with three different mothers who have kids under one year of age, though that's come to an abrupt stop; more on that later. As part of the English Teaching Committee, I went and talked to the new training group in Lima about, you guessed it, teaching English. And Amanda and I have expanded the classes we'd already been teaching in Jinua, an annex of our community, to reading as well, which have been a joy and a success.

Amanda's projects got started quite a bit sooner than mine did, so her last few months have been more about wrapping up than getting off the ground. But even then her workload has increased since summer vacation (January and February here). She's been to every meeting she can in order to talk to as many people as possible about climate change and how it relates to garbage management. In the space of a few months, she's spoken to several hundred people, which means she can close out her grant on her garbage cans project and send in the final report. Also, this past week a group from Peru 22, the training group a year after ours, came to visit for IST (In-Service Training) so they could learn from Amanda's experiences in both municipal garbage management and GLOBE, the climate change monitoring program mentioned in previous posts. She did a bang up job, and I could not have been prouder as she received recognition for her efforts from both the volunteers and her boss.

Throughout the two years there have been many activities we were planning on doing and never got around to for lack of time, money, or unforeseen obligations. Now, as we're running out of time, we've decided to make sure we get to see and do what we've wanted to see and do. Unfortunately, the list will have to stop past the first two, as I've injured myself in a way that will incapacitate me for at lease the next few weeks.

First, some thermal baths that live up to the hype. In a little known town above Carhuaz, next to an idyllic river, and looking out over the beautiful Ancash scenery of adobe houses with tiled roofs built on rolling hills of green, there is a small hot spring that churns out scalding hot water that you can barely dip a foot into. Next to it, however, is its slightly cooler sister spring that is perfect for sitting, relaxing, and, if we're to deduce from the empty shampoo packets lying around, taking a bath. Small amounts of garbage aside, it was perfect: isolated, no crowds of people, gorgeous surroundings, and pleasantly hot water flowing around you. If you ever make it to Ancash, avoid Monterrey and Chancos, the usual destinations for those seeking a relaxing afternoon. Head to Carhuaz instead, grab the colectivo that heads up to the smaller communities above, and ask to get off at the baños. You won't regret it.

Next up, Laguna 69. Often referred to as the most beautiful lake the Ancash region has to offer, the trail head to Laguna 69 is right up past Laguna Llanganuco, probably the most frequented lake we have due to both its beauty and accessibility. However, we'd already been past Llanganuco twice, once just to see it and the other time as we were finishing up the Santa Cruz trek last year. Thus, we'd avoided Laguna 69, because we'd have to take that same route a third time, and there are still so many things we've yet to see in other parts. Then again, it's supposed to be absurdly beautiful, so in the end we booked it last week and on Friday made the three hour hike up to the lake. First, the good news: it was completely worth it. I'd say it's my top activity in all of Ancash. You get a real taste of what a longer several day trip looks like without having to sleep outside in absolutely freezing temperatures, you get to see a truly stunning lake, and you have the comradery of a sizable but not too sizable group of tourists from all over the world, most of whom are incredibly friendly and interested in getting to know one another. Now, onto the injury.

I've mentioned in past posts the competition among Ancash volunteers to jump into more glacial lakes than anyone else. I did seven in my first several months and then didn't do any for over a year. I decided I'd do one last one and call it enough, and so I stripped down, dove into the very cold water, and upon scrambling into the relatively warmer (but still kind of cold) air cut my foot on a rock. I say cut, but it's more like sliced open an inch long section of my toe and then shoved up as hard as I could so it looked like a large triangular section of my toe had just been removed. And then there was the blood. Amanda ripped up my under shirt, wrapped up the toe, and tied it off with the another strip from the shirt, and the bleeding stopped pretty soon afterward. But then I had to walk down another two hours to the bus... and wait another two hours for everyone from our group to arrive... and then another two hours to arrive in Huaraz where I could get to the emergency room. The bad news? Seven stitches, antibiotics, an order to stay off my foot for a while – thus wiping out the possibility of finishing up my house visits, and having to get the stitches out in Lima while my family is visiting from the States. The good news? I didn't lose the toe, and, after I jumped in the lake, six more people decided it would be a good idea, did so as well, and not one of them had to visit an emergency room afterward.

Here are some photos, and in case not everyone is interested in seeing pictures of a mangled toe, I've put those photos in a separate album with a bonus picture of Amanda's bloody eye from a burst blood vessel.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Parackin´ Out

This past week we were supposed to have gone to Arequipa, hiked the Colca Canyon, eaten some rocoto relleno and relaxed in what is supposed to be one of Peru’s cleanest and most beautiful cities.  Unfortunately, our plans were disrupted by some strikes, but we made the best of a bad situation, traded in our bus tickets and headed to Paracas, a nature reserve located on the coast of Ica and one of the country’s fastest growing attractions. You see, in Peru, when life gives you lemons, you hand them back and ask for limes.

Paracas has two main attractions, the first being Las Islas Ballestas, three small islands, maybe ten or fifteen miles off the coast, which various animals call home. You see a huge quantity of the guano birds, which produce inch upon inch of crap until some poor soul comes out and shovels away several feet of it to be used as natural fertilizer. There are also terns, pelicans, boobies, and even Humboldt Penguins. However, by far the most stunning sight is the countless number of sea lions lounging about: a couple thousand at the very least.

Number two on the “to do list” is the nature reserve. While dominated by mile after mile of sand inland and rocky cliffs along the coast, there are some truly beautiful beaches, and the dunes make for a beautiful backdrop. You can see the scattered attractions in a tour bus or a private taxi, but we decided to rent bikes – not thinking ahead of time what eight hours on a bike seat will do to a person who hasn’t been on a bike in nearly two years. We got back to our hostel sore and many hours later than we had planned, but it felt good to do something active and thoroughly exhausting.

Being on the coast in a touristy area of Peru, it’s only assumed that we ate plenty of seafood. Ceviche, fried fish, grilled fish, calamari, you name it. It was all delicious. What we hadn’t anticipated was to find a restaurant specializing in paella, one of the signature dishes of Spain. We have absolutely no experience in what paella should be, and it’s possible that a Spaniard would scoff at the Peruvian imitation, but it was damn good nonetheless. And the best part of Paracas? It’s home to another volunteer, with whom we were able to catch up and grab drinks (mine an embarrassingly tall and tri-colored concoction named after Machu Picchu).

Our original vacation was set for a week, but this included 17 hours of travel to Arequipa from Lima and 17 hours back. Paracas is just under four hours away, so we were able to spend around four days in Paracas and the rest in Miraflores. While there, we checked out a high-end chocolate shop, grabbed a burrito in Barranco, and accidentally found a third location of the chocolate museum we’d already visited once in Cuzco and once in Miraflores. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the particular chocolate dessert Menda was looking for, so we headed over to the Miraflores branch and somehow ended up walking out with a bar of dark chocolate weighing in at a kilogram. It’s probably sold for baking purposes, but who’s gonna say otherwise if we want to just eat it straight?

Parque Kennedy is the focal point of Miraflores, the neighborhood in which the volunteers usually stay when passing through Lima, and one of its many appeals is the curious quantity of cats roaming around. We had a few hours to kill one morning, so we decided to see how many photos we could take of different cats. We never got an exact count, but I think we hit somewhere between 80 and 90. Below we’ve included some of the better photos of them along with pictures from Paracas and a few from past entries that I never got around to uploading.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In Case You´ve Forgotten Us...

We are, indeed, still alive. I apologize for the extended absence, but I assure you all that we are as well as can be expected. We’re just about at the year and a half mark, and were I to write in detail of every little thing, you’d find yourselves in a particularly bad bout of déjà vu, for since late November (the anniversary of our having landed in Paria), it seems we’ve been stuck on repeat ourselves. Therefore, with this post, I will try to keep you updated while still shy of over-informed.

Summer School:
As some of you may recall, in the previous summer we taught two months of vacaciones útiles with each week devoted to a different theme and always a bit of English vocabulary. This year, we taught the same five courses for the two months straight with each day of the week assigned to its own subject. I taught public speaking, English, health and science, and Menda taught geography. Public speaking I cancelled after five weeks because no one was willing to prepare a speech beginning to end - even after being walked through step by step how to do so for over a month; English went reasonably well, all things considered; health was basically going through the healthy homes aspect of Peace Corps Peru’s Community Health Program; and the science class was definitely my favorite part. Rote learning is the standard in Peru, and I wanted to do a little something that showed the kids that learning can and should be interactive, so each week I prepared two experiments with which the kids could practice the scientific method and hopefully enjoy themselves as well. Menda’s geography class covered a different continent each week and, among other things, discussed the differences and similarities between the students’ lives and those they saw in videos from the Sesame Street Panwapa series.

English Classes:
Throughout January and February I also taught an adult intensive English class. Five nights a week, I met for two hours with three students and went through as much as we could cram in. I’ve had my heart set for some time on teaching high school English, but this experience makes me think that working with a more adult population could be very rewarding as well, maybe in a night school or junior college setting.

Peace Corps Projects:
Since my overwhelmingly unsuccessful attempt to teach sexual education last school year, I’ve modified my approach. I’m hoping to work within the framework of an already established class (personal, familia y relaciones humanas) with a younger group (that might still have some inkling of respect for authority), and use the scores on the post exam for a grade. Fingers are crossed. My job with the mothers took a hit after the health promoter I trained last November and December disappeared off the face of the earth. So I’m training a new health promoter during a one hour cram session and starting house visits with four mothers starting at the end of this month. Amanda’s trash can project continues to be both a daily encouragement and sucker punch to the nose. The community’s looking cleaner, people are by and large using the trash cans in the correct way, and it’s good to see something physical that our time in the Peace Corps will leave behind. But... There are always a few black sheep who are unhappy with any changes made, and they always bleat the loudest. We should be able to shrug it off , but it’s not always easy to remember that the happy majority don’t usually feel the need to report their satisfaction and appreciation for a job well done. It looks like yet another attempt by Menda to plant a bunch of trees has fallen through due to people’s unwillingness to dig their own holes. You’d think as many free trees as they’d like would be incentive enough, but they want the trees first on the promise they’ll dig the holes later. Another volunteer has had moderate success through the sale of stickers in Huaraz that fund payment to the landowners wanting to plant trees. Though we still don’t necessarily agree with paying someone to receive something for free, we certainly sympathize with the struggle all other volunteers face in trying to help someone who doesn’t really want to be helped. You do what you have to. Lastly of our current Peace Corps projects is GLOBE. Look it up. It’s an international climate change monitoring program that uses kids to gather the data. I built a GLOBE box last year, and I’m currently repairing an old one from another volunteer. With these two, Menda will be able to teach climate change in a very hands-on way to kids in two of the grade schools in our community.

I’m not sure if I’ve yet written about mid-service. Summed up, after a year in site, they pull us back to Lima, shame us into thinking we’ve not done enough, make us poop in a cup, and send us back to finish out the rest of our service. Not really, though. It was nice to see the faces we went through training with, I found the other volunteers’ successful projects to be more inspiring than discouraging, and pooping in a cup was... awkward, but we both came back with a clean bill of health.

As I mentioned last year in this here blog, during Carnaval, each community takes its giant cross and walks it down to Huaraz, a priest says mass over the crosses (apparently with no room for people), and then they’re walked back up to their respective sites. And then everyone gets drunk. And chops down some trees. And then drinks some more. Etcetera. What I didn’t write about last year was Martes Guerra (Mardi Gras), mainly because I was violently sick last Martes Guerra. Depending on where you celebrate this day, there are varying degrees of wildness. In Cajamarca, for example, gangs of youth roam the streets with buckets full of water, paint, used motor oil, or any other spare fluid they can find and proceed to dump it on their victim of choice. Advice from a volunteer who has gone to this storied event was to duct tape your shoes, but don’t wear a giant plastic hazmat suit, because it just makes you a bigger target. Once upon a time, they say that Martes Guerra was as crazy in Huaraz, but now it’s usually just water and flour that the gangs of youth throw on you. We were hanging out in the fourth story apartment of a third year volunteer, throwing water balloons and dumping buckets of water on unsuspecting people below. But as they say, it’s all fun and games until someone breaks a windshield with a poorly aimed water balloon. No, seriously. I had to pay the guy 250 soles, but he was really nice about it. He took it all in the spirit of the day, but just wanted his windshield paid for.

Other Activities:
We’ve been in Peru for a year and a half, but I’m only now starting to feel like I have the things I need to feel... normal, I guess. I may have mentioned this previously, but I started a book group among the volunteers. Each month we meet after our regional meeting, discuss the book chosen the previous month and choose a new one for the next. We’ve read Candide, Mountains Beyond Mountains, A Thousand Splended Suns, Bel Canto, Americanah and Tenth Of December. Ultimate has also started up again, and each Friday there’s a pickup game with various Huaracinos, volunteers and tourists. And to top things off, the new volunteer leader for Ancash is an experienced swing dancer, so the three of us are giving swing lessons and are hoping eventually to do a swing bomb (swing dancing flash mob) in the plaza de armas. Also, Menda has been meeting with a friend (from the church we went to for a while) to practice her Spanish (and the woman her English). She is likewise baffled by some of the obstacles faced when trying to help people in the campo. For example, she tried to donate her time teaching campo women to read only to find that they refused to be taught unless you gave them a gift of some kind – money, sugar, etcetera. It’s good to know that we’re not the only ones facing these kinds of challenges.

I think that’s it for now. As always, an email, phone call, letter or package will always be appreciated. As it usually takes a month or so to mail anything, your time is quickly running out to support us with gifts of pictures of candy.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

End Of Year Wrap Up

Here are some photos from these last few weeks of the school year here. A few from classes, a few from a chocolatada, a few while planting trees, the winners of a poster contest Menda sponsored and of course some from Christmas with our host family.


Sunday, December 1, 2013


So we had a few Thanksgiving celebrations. The Sunday before, we had a potluck with the other volunteers in which we took over the kitchen of a local café. There was turkey, green bean casserole, sweet potato pie, pasta salad (Menda´s plate), spiced peaches (my own contribution), apple strudel and several others. The apple strudel was made by two Austrian women who, as it turns out, work three times a week at the school in our site. So I´ve begun helping them out in whatever small ways I can with the English classes they organize there.

We also celebrated thanksgiving in Trujillo, eating too much Papa John´s while sitting in a mall. It was the most ´Merican I´ve felt in a long time. The rest of the time, we explored the city and relaxed on the beach in Huanchaco. Not too shabby.

We´ve got a few pictures for you from Trujillo, but also included are a few shots of the kids in Jinua transplanting the cherry trees they´ve been growing since April. Here they are: Trees and Trujillo

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Happy Birthday, Paria

So I guess yesterday was the anniversary of our town. I was pretty sure they celebrated that a little over a month ago. Oh well, here´s an album of little kids in traditional Peruvian dress.