Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Living Quechua

Throughout my research on Quechua as a language and culture, with the help of a library professional, I came across a film called Living Quechua that will be available to view later this year, 2015. After my travels to Peru, I have noticed what seems like a global movement for indigenous peoples to reclaim their rights to their own cultures and gain recognition as legitimate communities. I hope that this film, which has already received acclaim, will spread awareness to the struggles that Quechua-speakers and all other indigenous groups face and help move those people to hold on to their roots. Here is the description of the film from Living Quechua's website:
Elva Ambía Rebatta's first language is Quechua, but when she left her town in Peru as a young woman to find work in the United States, speaking Spanish and English became critical for her to survive. While Quechua–a language indigenous to South America–continues to be spoken around the world as a result of such migration stories, UNESCO and other initiatives recognize it as an endangered language. Now in her seventies, Elva decides to help cultivate a Quechua-speaking community in New York City. Living Quechua follows Elva through the challenges and successes of trying to keep Quechua alive.
While millions of people speak Quechua, it is still considered to be an endangered language. What has happened, which I confirmed by talking to others, is that many people from Quechua-speaking families do not speak the language very well. There are a multitude of reasons behind this. For a long time, Quechua was not recognized as an official language of Peru. It was not taught in schools, nor did parents always pass the language on to their children due to cultural stigma. Because of this, many children grow up being able to speak neither Quechua nor Spanish with desired proficiency. Obviously, this can feed into the cycle of poverty since language is a huge factor in monetary success. This is a really interesting topic, which is why I am so excited for this film.

Friday, August 21, 2015

I'm Engaged!

My lovely astronomer, Ryan, flew over to Peru to visit me. Despite us both being sick, we had many adventures traveling to Cusco, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, and finally Lima.

Ryan proposed to me in Machu Picchu Pueblo, also known as Aguas Calientes. It is the little tourist town at the bottom of the Machu Picchu archaeological site. There is a beautiful little church there that I had entered the time before when I visited the town. It was quiet and had beautiful religious art. I loved it for the life-sized crucifix of the "black Christ" in the style of Spanish Realism. The statue had real hair and a painful expression that evoked deep emotion in those kneeling in prayer.

I wanted to show Ryan this church, which had no name posted. We walked up the aisle and knelt down to pray. As we were praying (and Ryan needed a considerable amount of prayer to mull over what he was going to say), he leaned over to me and whispered to me to ask if he could interrupt me. Then, he asked if he could be my life companion in marriage. It was a beautiful moment that I will cherish my entire life.

Now we're both back in the US. It feels strange to be home and about to start classes again. All of my adventures abroad have ceased, and I feel as if I've awaken from a dream, and instead of feeling like being home, I feel a sense of nowhereness. 

I suppose this "nowhereness" could also be categorized as "inbetweenness." I am in between states of being. I carry the experiences of Peru in my heart, and nobody around me will fully understand. I am now an engaged woman, which is not quite single but not quite married either. I am young—young enough to be looked at as a "young person" but old enough to deal with adult responsibilities. And yet, I still feel ill-prepared. I come back to my home feeling like I don't belong. However, when I look down at the ring on my finger, I start to think fondly of what the future could bring—a true home and a companion in the struggles of inbetweenness that will likely not stop, but metamorphose, perhaps into something quite beautiful.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Long Awaited Rain Forest Post

When I got the email from the study abroad organization asking if I would like to spend extra money to visit the Peruvian Amazon, I asked, "Will we be visiting la Isla de los Monos?" "Yes," they replied. I was sold by Monkey Island, the place where multiple breeds of monkeys saved from poaching dwell. It was a dream for the little Katie inside my heart who said this is your chance to become their monkey queen and feed them and hold them and love them. I didn't hold them, but I did feed them, as glimpsed in the video below. 

You see, the Amazon wasn't exactly the trip that I had hoped it would be, mostly do to diarrhea. Sometimes that occurs when one travels and happens to unsafe food that was deemed safe by the host organization. Not thinking anything of it at first because I already have issues, I let it go until it was too late to see a doctor due to the nonrefundable Amazon trip. So, I spent a lot of time in the jungle either in pain, on the toilet, avoiding food, and/or sleeping.

When I did venture out with the group to go on an incredible jungle trek, I felt like I was Indiana Jones. By the way, the movies don't show the after effects of very realistic parasites that Indiana Jones must have had. If you want a simple introduction, everything in the jungle can kill you! We walked through the mud for two and a half hours. It was mud that was so thick that it ate someone's boot. I got stuck in the mud twice and needed to call for reinforcements to help me out. The mud was also slippery when it coated other surfaces, so it was incredibly difficult to keep from falling into the mud pits. This would naturally force you to have to cling on to nearby tree trunks, but wait! If you clung onto certain tree trunks, giant ants would come out and vigorously defend their homes by biting you into oblivion! Other tree trunks had two inch black spikes covering the trunk. I learned that the hard way!

Finally when we made it out of subtropical purgatory, after glimpsing sloths, aardvarks, and other creatures, we emerged through the trees to explore Lake Sandoval by boat. We saw caimans and a variety of birds around the lake while we got to sit in the boat and take a break.

"Stinky Bird," which looks like a phoenix
After we boated along the large and thriving lake, we arrived to the entrance of a lodge, where I claimed a comfortable hammock. My body molded to that hammock like melting butter, and I took one of the best naps. 

When we got back from our trek, we did a little zip lining up in the canopy, and I climbed across a wobbly rope bridge to a beautiful lookout. I stayed at the lookout for a few minutes to sit and reflect on the sheer volume of wildlife around me and how blessed I was to experience it, but there was a tinge of sadness in the feeling of awe. This was truly a privilege, thinking of the future generations who will not have the opportunity to witness it in the same condition that I had due to deforestation, mining, oil, and other factors contributing to the destruction of the Rain forest.

What an interesting thought that if I return, the Amazon rain forest will be weaker than it once was. The air will be a little less clean, the forest a little less abundant, the animals a little more threatened, and the uncontacted tribes a little more aware of the outside world and the slow death of their home. There will be a day when the Amazon rain forest dies, and I hope I never live to see that day.

What a sad and beautiful world in which we live.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What Next?

I am back in the States now, but I still have a few more Peru posts I have not uploaded. I will upload those and maybe some reflection posts on the whole experience. I would like to keep this blog going in the future as I consider applying for a Fulbright grant (most likely in Peru). Stay tuned!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Where Have I Been?

Whoa, the time has passed! Ryan is coming tomorrow, and I still have not posted about many things. I will in due time. I've been very busy lately. I will explain:

So, after a month and a half of living with my host family, I decided to leave their home. I had a lot of problems with the host mother, so I packed my bags, left a note on my bed, and left. I don't want to go into too much detail, but my host mother was very controlling and demeaning and accused me of things I did not do. I felt uncomfortable in the home, and I finally decided to leave for a new host family where I could enjoy the last two weeks of the program.

This new host family has been great! They make me feel like a part of the family, and I feel comfortable being in the home. Meanwhile, I had been fulfilling my requirements for the service learning placement at the school. I made friends with teachers and got into the swing of things just to end so quickly! It is bittersweet that the program has to end so soon.

This week is going to be very special not only because Ryan arrives, but also because Peru is celebrating their independence. There are going to be parades and big celebrations. Speaking of, I got to march with my volunteer placement like a true Peruvian! Afterwards, all the teachers ate Chiriuchu (a vegetarian's worst nightmare) and drank booze courtesy of the school into the evening, and I got to dance Salsa with the director.

The kids of HVU in the plaza

Until next update...

¡Viva el Perú!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Not Another "Vamos" Tour: Chacan and Devil's Balcony

This trip has been filled with "vamos" tours. At Machu Picchu, the act of taking a picture or slowing down was followed by "vamos!" At Pisac and Ollantaytambo, "vamos!" was all we heard. It was "vamos!" all the way from the bus and back. Coming out of the restaurant at Urubamba, I was heading to the bus and got told "vamos" when I wasn't even the last one out. We did a lot of hurrying up just so we could wait. Taking in the sites was not an option unless you wanted to be left behind, and I have been a couple of times! I am sick of hearing "vamos," so this trek to Chacan and Devil's Balcony was a nice change of pace.

We took a taxi to the bus stop for Sacsaywaman, and just before we got on the bus, a mother carrying a little boy on her back passed us. This little boy had a had with a bear and the embroidered numbers of "222" on his hat. This may sound strange, but these numbers repeat themselves a lot through my life, and they're appeared at odd moments. I heard they symbolize the Trinity, and I saw them just after I prayed for our safety and being able to feel connected to God on this trip. It was uncanny, the way it happened. 

We hiked up through Sacsaywaman, stopping to explore a little on the way. Then, we followed our little hand written, scavenger-hunt style directions. Some of the directions said things like "pass the jumbled stone blocks," and we kept seeing stones and thinking "which ones?" We hiked up a steep hill and past a herd of sheep and an unhappy sheep dog. As we trekked on, looking at all the beauty around us, we got closer to a small village. When we reached the village, we followed a water channel all the way up to the site. 

Along the way, we encountered many obstacles, including animals. It was like being in The Odyssey. A barking dog kept us from taking the wrong path, and then we happened upon a field of bulls. We saw llamas and donkeys grazing as well as a group of pigs. Thanks to Sarah, my hiking partner, we found the actual site past the group of pigs. 

We climbed through a small cave at the top, which overlooked the gorge. When we got out and walked down to the water, we peeked around the corner to see this huge cave appear from nowhere! We tried to enter inside, but steep smooth rocks and a waterfall drop off kept us from going further, for the time being. I managed to find a way inside. We had to take our shoes off and walk through the creek into the cave and out to the other side. 

When we came back out of the cave, we encountered a shaman ceremony, and a random dog led us to Incan stones and to the path we needed to get back. We foraged our own Andean mint, we scaled the side of a wall, and we found our way back wandering through terraced farms with the sounds of donkeys and goats and the smell of mint and eucalyptus in the air. Aside from the farmers and shepherds, we hardly saw anyone. We did all of this by ourselves without the help of a guide, and we succeeded. It was the most memorable part of the trip.

We got the chance to feel the stones and sit for a while and listen to the sounds, eating kiwis and trail mix in the grass. It was time to absorb the energy around us and reflect. This is what hiking in the Andes should be about. It should be about walking on foot, perhaps getting slightly lost, and having a personalized experience without someone yelling "vamos" in your ear. I felt like I experienced authentic Peru, and I will remember this for the rest of my life. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

4th of July Abroad

We had a big hike planned for this Fourth of July morning, but pouring rain woke me up after 5 AM, and the rain didn't stop for hours. It was unprecedented, as it is dry season and hasn't rained hardly a drop since I got here! So, instead of hiking, My friend Sarah and I did like US Americans do and shopped the entire day. I bought so many great things! We went to various markets, got lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, and explored areas of Cusco where tourists didn't visit. As in, markets with mud and blood covering the sidewalks and people sawing open goat's severed heads! I also tried some dubious street chicha for 1 Sol. 

Afterwards, after we had dropped our plunder off at our houses, we decided to head to a burger and barbecue place that our fellow students were going to (before they changed their minds at the last minute). We sipped on 2 for 1 Caipirinhas, ate some excellent onion rings, and had burgers and barbecue. 

We were very tired afterwards (the Caipirinhas didn't help), so we went home in preparation for our rescheduled hike early tomorrow morning... I'm going to bed now.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

My First Week of Service Learning

I'm already nearly done with the first week of my Service Learning portion of the program. I'm working at a private school in the area. At the beginning of my program, I was told that I would serve as a teacher's aid, conversation partner, and that I would most likely drift around assisting various classrooms...well, that isn't exactly the case. When I arrived my first day, the teacher said "Alright. What do you have prepared for the next two hours because you're going to teach." I stood there for a second until I improvised something. After the first day, I was exhausted. No one ever said teaching children was so difficult! I thought to myself, How am I going to do this for a whole month? 

I have to teach multiple grade levels and arrange lessons for each of them because the primary school teachers don't speak English even though they're expected to teach it. Most days I teach for 4 hours, but today I taught for 6 straight hours. My back was killing me and I felt exhausted. Some days, thankfully, I get to help with secondary. There is an English teacher for secondary, so not all the pressure is on me. 

I went to the Service Learning meeting today with the volunteers, and almost all of them said they had so much free time that they had to look for things to do. It seems like my placement is the most difficult. I am not complaining, though, because I will be an expert by the time the end of the month approaches! 

Today was the hardest yet. Mostly because of the fifth graders who were noisy, mean to each other, and didn't take me seriously at all. It didn't help that their teacher left the room for most of the class or sat at her desk not helping with classroom management when I really needed it. The rest of the time, the children were sweet. They come up to me to tell me hello and give me kisses on the cheek. Sometimes, they try to share their snacks with me. Some little fourth grade girls gave me a bracelet they made today.

Oh, and I used a squat toilet for the first time at the school. It was interesting, to say the least. 

Overall, I think the most challenging part about working at the school will be classroom management.  For the most part, the students are fine. That fifth grade class might be the death of me though. I need to find a way to command more respect from them. Since being a disciplinarian is not in my nature and since my discipline vocabulary in Spanish is limited, this is going to be a challenge. Next is planning. It's difficult to know where the students are and what they need, but there are plenty of resources available for me to use. I realized that it takes very special people to work with younger children on a daily basis because when they're good, they're so sweet, but when they're bad, it's incredibly frustrating. 

Monday is Teacher's Appreciation Day, a school holiday, so I think I'm going to take some time to appreciate myself after a hard first week...

Lake Titicaca Part 3/3: Taquile

This post is way overdue! 

From Amantani, we took a boat over to Taquile. In Taquile, the people were even more traditional. When we arrived on the island, the tour guide told the males to walk in the front because females could not walk beside a male. Otherwise, it would be a sign of disrespect. This is still a highly patriarchal society, and they keep all of their old customs.

The people seemed happy to have us, but it seemed more like a show. They demonstrated various customs to us, which was interesting to see. My favorite custom happens upon marriage. The women grow their hair out until their married, and after they get married, they cut their hair and present their husband with large woven belt made from the hair. Another interesting custom concerns courting. Men wear different hats when they are looking for a wife. When a man sees a woman that catches his attention, he will take a mirror and try to reflect light in her eyes to get her attention. If this doesn't work, he'll try pelting her with pebbles until she notices him. Mind you, these are grown men!  

Afterwards, we walked to another part of the island where they prepared a trout for each of us. Trout is not native to Titicaca, but it certainly was fresh and delicious. 

One thing I felt from both these islands was a sense of peace. These societies are not rich by any means, but they communicate with one another, respect their heritage, and respect the land. This is something extremely valuable that was lost long ago in many places. I hope to one day return to Lake Titicaca.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Lake Titicaca Part 2: Amantaní

After a two hour boat ride, we made it from Puno to the island of Amantaní. Stepping off the boat was almost like walking onto a movie set. Here we are on this tiny island in the middle of a lake bordering Peru and Bolivia--the same lake that was once thought to be the cradle of the world and the origin of Andean civilization. The island is terraced with old stones, and the sounds of bleating lambs and the lapping of water against the shore pepper the air.

My room
As privileged guests of the island, the people prepared us a traditional feast of chicken and potatoes cooked in the ground with smoked sage. This feast, called "pachamanca," is usually only prepared for big holidays, so it was a special opportunity to try it. Many of the islanders still live somewhat traditionally. They eat together, preserve their native Quechua language, dress traditionally (for the most part), and even keep their old gods (Wirakocha, Pachamama and Pachatata, for example). The island felt different. There was a sense of calm that other places don't have. 

The evening of the day we arrived, we hiked up the tallest mountain of the island, Pachamama, so we could see the sunset over the whole island. Because of the altitude and the cold (it's higher than Cusco), the hike was not quite leisurely. It was somewhat of a struggle for most people, but it was worth the views that I soaked in every chance I could get. 
On the way up Pachamama Mtn.
View of Pachatata Mtn.
When I finally made it to the top, there was a lone donkey walking around an enclosure. He looked so sweet with his deep, sad eyes and his little saddle. I went up to him to pet him and sing to him. I called him "Mansito." Manso is Spanish for docile, and -ito is the diminutive ending that people use frequently as a term of endearment. 

I sat at the top of the mountain away from the rest of the group and watched the sunset in quiet. It was beautiful to see the way the sun played off the ancient waters. Soon after, it was dark enough to see the stars. As a note about the stars, since I am in the Southern Hemisphere, the night sky is different. It is also easier to see stars here because of the altitude, dry air, and less light pollution. On this island, the stars were brighter than I have ever seen them. They were numerous, and I was even able to see the milky way across the sky. I thought of Ryan, my astronomer, and wished he had been there to see it. It's a memory I won't forget. 

That night, we got to see a first hair cut ceremony for  one of the little boys of the island. The first hair cut is a rite of passage, and guests each cut a piece of hair and give money to the child. The hair is then offered to Pachamama. After the hair cutting ceremony was a small celebration across the island with live music and outrageous dancing that consisted of my professor eagerly grabbing hands, forming a chain, and snaking as fast as we could around the room to the beat of the music. 

Leaving the island the next day, we said "Sulpayki," Quechua for "thank you," and gave the islanders a cheek kiss on the way back onto the boat. From there, we headed to the island of Taquile...

Friday, June 26, 2015

I'm Done with Classes!

It has been an intense five weeks of classes, and they are finally over. This week was by far the hardest. Earlier this week, I had small medical scare. It turns out I only have a parasite for which I'm taking antibiotics. On top of that mess, I completed two essays: one 7-page and one 3-page. Did I mention they were both in Spanish? I also just finished my final exam and final presentation this evening. I didn't think I could do all this work in one week, but I proved myself wrong. I still have my fingers crossed for the grades, though.

Anyway, what this means is that I can finally update my blog! I plan on finishing the Puno posts and then posting about my Amazon Rain forest excursion, to name a couple of things. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lago Titicaca Part 1: The Floating Island

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. It's waters, nestled in the mountains that divide Peru and Bolivia, are clear and cold. From Puno, it was a thirty minute boat ride to get to the floating island. It was believed (and probably still is by a few) that Viracocha, the creator god, created the land as a valley for his chosen people to live in peace. However, they could not venture past the valley. Of course, as the story goes, the people did venture past the valley to try to expand their wisdom to the level of Viracocha's. After this, Viracocha was so grief stricken that he cried for forty days and forty nights, filling the valley with the waters of Lake Titicaca. You can see that biblical influence crept in over the years, especially since priests and monks were probably the ones transcribing this oral tradition. 

Stepping onto the floating island, the faux ground moved under my feet. It was a small island with a place to raise fish, little huts, a chicken coop, and boats. Supposedly, the people originally started building floating islands because of the Spanish Conquest. It was said that the people fled into the reeds on the lake, but when the water rose, they had to construct the islands. The islands are built from huge pieces of reed root, and they are anchored together and covered with layers of reed. The people have been living like this ever since the Spanish. They can go to the peninsula for supplies if they need them, but they are a self sufficient community for the most part. 

chicken coop

As we were about to leave the island, a small black cat appeared. I saw it step off a boat. I'm not sure if it's a regular on the island or just visiting like the rest of us. It was very friendly, but it took me by surprise to see it. 

Mountains of Bolivia in the distance
After the floating islands, it was another two hours until the small island of Amantaní where we were staying for the night. My next post will be about Amantaní. 

Machu Picchu

I just realized that this post is over a week late! This will be a short post since the views are self explanatory and I still have to post about Lake Titicaca. 

When we went up to Machu Picchu, we took the first day to settle in to our luxury hotel rooms (with hot showers!). We explored the forest and trekked to some freezing waterfalls on the first day, but the second day was when we took the bus to the archaeological site. We had passes to hike up Wayna Picchu, the large mountain. It was challenging. One student fell and ripped a hole in his pants because parts were basically rock climbing. Finishing it without incident made me so happy. I used to be the girl with bad asthma who wasn't even able to run a mile. Now I'm climbing mountains. 

With each step, the view kept getting better and better. In the picture below, you can see how tiny Machu Picchu looks in the background. You can also see it's in the shape of the condor if you turn your head and squint. 

When we hiked back down to explore Machu Picchu, I couldn't help but think what it must have been like to live in this place. Despite the amount of tourists, it was incredibly peaceful and green. The meticulousness that the Incans had building this site was undeniable. Nowadays, it takes so little time to assemble a house or build a building. Structures come and go in our society, but Incans built their structures to last. That kind of planning speaks to the mentality of the people.

I have an interesting story that I'll probably share in a different post, but when we returned to Machu Picchu Pueblo, I made a monkey friend. You can see the little monkey sitting on my shoulder. 
Tiny monkey on my back!
By the way, as a side note,  if any of you are planning on going to Machu Picchu, I would not recommend staying in Machu Picchu Pueblo. The prices of everything are three times as high as usual, and every time you walk on the street, people are shoving menus in your face or asking multiple times if you want a massage.

Monday, June 15, 2015

En que momento se jodió el Perú?

In my Culture for Language Learners class, my professor brought up a famous quote from Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa in his book, Conversation in the Cathedral: "En que momento se jodió el Perú?" The English translation of the novel reads, "At what precise moment had Peru f*cked itself up?"

In this class, we acknowledge the noncanonical culture throughout Central and South America. We look at the underbelly of society and the problems that go unspoken or unsolved. After having been living in the community of Cusco for about a month, I am going to acknowledge some of the problems in this post.

We all hear about corruption in Latin America, and while the corruption here is not an immediate threat, its effects are still observable.

For example, one of the first things one can't help but notice upon arrival is the presence of unfinished buildings and houses. Cement shells with rebars sticking out and houses missing roofs are everywhere in Peru, not just Cusco. The fact that so many houses go unfinished cannot be blamed on laziness. I have heard that it is the fault of the banks here in Peru, although I can't state specifically the root of the problem.

The education system here is also concerning. Almost every child attends a private school. I have not once even seen a public school here. I heard that public education (not including university) is deplorable.

Of course, there are also stories of police letting people who know high government officials get away with small crimes.There is also [this] case which has been on the news lately. However, many of the problems exist because it is normal for Peruvians to try and game the system. Many people here will rent houses under the table so as not to pay taxes, for example. It is also normal to leech electricity and wifi.

When on the street (and definitely not on a personal basis), people seem to demonstrate a lack of consideration for others. Many people drop their trash wherever they please, run red lights, almost hit pedestrians, refuse to acknowledge others on the street (unless they're catcalling, which happens frequently), pickpocket, ignore those in need, etc. People in Cusco also have a weird habit of slowly walking in groups that take up the entire sidewalk and refuse to move, even bumping into you, when they clearly see you coming.

Additionally, people are always looking to get money from foreigners. On my first day here, after arriving sweaty and dehydrated and tired on a delayed flight, a man pretended to be from my program, took my bags from me (when I told him not to and tried to get them back), and hurried to the ISA bus. When we got to the bus, he repeatedly asked for a tip, which confusingly sounded like "teep, teep." After having given him more money than I meant to (There are 5 sol coins), I finally got on the bus.

For all the reasons listed above, I don't think I can give a satisfactory answer to Vargas Llosa's question about a precise moment in which Peru f*cked itself up. Perhaps it started due to problems from colonization. Maybe it's because of higher level government corruption. It might even be due to the citizens' lack of consideration for others and their environment. More probable though is a combination of many things.

Although the roads are a free-for-all and remind me of real-life Mariokart, and although many of the buildings are unfinished, things seem to work here. A virtue that comes from Peru's brokenness is flexibility. Since the roads don't have lines, and stop signs and stop lights are mere suggestions, drivers have to coordinate with other drivers around them to work like a living organism. Even though the buildings are patched up or partially unfinished, they still work well enough.

Yes, I suppose one could look at all the statistics and say that Peru is broken, but the statistics don't tell of the people's hospitality, generosity, curiosity, and an unwillingness  to say "no" to others. Statistics don't show the true face of Peru; experience does.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Friday, June 5, 2015

Corpus Christi

This is Corpus Christi.
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” -John 6:51

John Chapter 6 is the chapter in which the pinnacle of our Catholic faith, the Eucharist (Holy Communion), is laid out. As Catholics, we believe the words of Jesus when he repeatedly states that His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink that we must consume to have life in us. John 6:66--the only point in the Bible in which disciples left Jesus for doctrinal reasons. Corpus Christi means the Body of Christ, and this is the holiday for the Eucharist, in which Christ comes down from heaven like manna to transform the bread and wine in to His body and blood so that we may live.

Like any good Catholic celebration, the holiday took place over two days with a big feast. The first day was la Entrada de los Santos- the Entrance of the Saints. The faithful carried large statues of patron saints from each neighborhood (15) in preparation for Corpus Christi the next day. There was singing and dancing and feasting this day.

The second day consisted of Mass in the Plaza de Armas. People coming to take part in the Mass and then to follow the procession of the consecrated host around the square filled the Plaza. I saw more religious, priests, monks, nuns, sisters, and seminarians,  in one place than I have in my whole life. They were following directly behind the consecrated host with plumes of incense, the ringing of church bells, and murmurs of prayers in Spanish and Quechua filling the air.

I walked quietly home from the Plaza de Armas, soaking up all the energy and beauty around me. Chiruichu was waiting for me. It's a traditional dish unique to Cusco eaten every year on Corpus Christi. It consists of Guinea Pig, sausage, dried meat, fish eggs, chicken, cheese, seaweed, toasted corn, and tortilla (basically Peruvian cornbread). It's meant to be eaten cold and with your hands, getting a little bit of everything in each bite. Afterwards, the family and I went up to the roof to chew on fresh sugar cane for dessert.

I'll try to have a video with more pictures posted soon, but the internet's spotty and I'm leaving for Machu Picchu tomorrow.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Valle Sagrado

In the time that I haven't been posting on this blog, I've been doing so many things! I'm an explorer by day and student by night these days. Now that I have some time to rest, I think it's time I post about my Sacred Valley trip this past weekend. 


We left out in the morning on a bus bound for Awanakancha llama farm, Pisaq, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, and finally Chinchero before heading back to Cusco for the night. 

We drove for about an hour on winding roads through little villages made out of clay bricks before we reached Awanakancha, our first destination. On the ride, I remember thinking what it would be like to live and work in one of these villages. When we drove by a little Spanish church perched high on the hill, I thought of what it must be like to hike up the grassy hill to listen to Mass every Sunday in the church that must smell rich like the Earth. 

Alas, Awanakancha was hidden like a pearl in a clam shell from behind one of the hills. We stopped here with insufficient time--the downfall of group trips. Before I knew it, and before I really got to befriend any of the camelids (I speak camelidae, you know).

My favorite. 

On the bus to Pisaq it was! This was where huge mountains started sprouting from the ground before our very eyes. It was like a giant's burial ground with all the mounds touching the sky. We drove up more winding roads with no seatbelts on until we approached the Pisaq archeological site. Again, we had just enough time to climb up one of the trails before having to descend and board the bus again. 

After pisaq, we drove to Urumamba to enjoy a "traditional" Peruvian buffet. I'm using scare quotes because buffets are for tourists. Nevertheless, it was good! I had a Cusqueña (Cusco beer) with my meal, and I sipped it down by the river like any good Southerner. 

The back of Tunapa Restaurant
Soon after one of the study abroad chaperones told me to hurry and get on the bus while I was clearly walking to the bus (and I wasn't even the last one in), we left for Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo's another famous archeological site. It would have been the site of a large temple for the sun god, but it went unfinished. There are huge terraces with ruins of storage facilities. When the Incan subjects payed their taxes, they'd pay using food instead of money. This food went into the storage facilitied on the sides of the mountains where it would freeze dry and keep for years. 

It seemed like I had a lot more time at Ollantaytambo to go off on my own and explore. I felt like I was in a dream among all the stones and terraces. I imagined what it must have taken to build it and how the Spanish might have reacted when happening upon this site. The Incans where better architects than any of the Spanish. I came down from the mountain, literally and figuratively, and then waited to board for Chinchero.

The sun was getting lower and lower in the sky as we drove through countryside to the small village of Chinchero to see how Alpaca knits were made. 

It was cold, so we all huddled together clutching to the clay mugs filled with steaming coca mate that they served us. We watched the demonstration and then descended upon the little market to buy hand knit goods. Then, the day became cloaked in night, and we boarded the buses again to reach Cusco, eat some dinner, and go to sleep.